To begin with, the issue here is whether or not Bill can seek damages for negligence for psychiatric illness. As shown in Chadwick v British Railway Board1, to claim for psychiatric illness, the claimant has to show a recognised medical condition usually caused by shock. In this case, Bill’s depression is a recognised medical condition induced by the shock of Annie dying in his arms. In order to prove this however, the claim must meet the requirements for negligence2. That is, the defendant has to we the claimant a duty of care, the defendant must be in breach of that duty and the breach must have been a sufficient cause.
DUTY OF CARE
The defendant has to owe the claimant a duty of care3. Duty of care is interestingly tedious to show in cases of psychiatric harm, as duty is usually owed if the claimant could be reasonably foreseeable as a victim.
There are two major classifications for a victims namely; primary victim and secondary victim. In Page v Smith (1996)4 a primary victim is a victim who was directly involved in the accident and at risk of physical harm, regardless of whether or not it was actually suffered. As long as physical harm is reasonably foreseeable, showing foreseeability of psychiatric harm is unnecessary5. People that assist in an accident are secondary victims, because they usually do not know the victims6. However, due to their response to the cry for help, they are treated differently7. Lord Steyn, in White v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire8 Police established that a rescuer could only be considered as a primary victim if he ‘objectively exposed himself to a danger or reasonably believed he was doing so’. The courts have usually concluded that defendants don’t just owe a duty of care to those who they endangered first by their negligent actions, but also to rescuers who choose to rescue9.
In this case, Bill is primary victim as rescuer. It is reasonably foreseeable for a person, who is exposed to the negligent act of using faulty gas valves, to be at risk of suffering a physical harm. He ran back into the house help and assist Annie after the explosion. The house was devastated, and Annie was on fire, he proceeded to extinguish the fire, knowing it could burn him at any time, which would make the situation objectively dangerous. Although, he suffered no physical damage, the risk of it, is sufficient to make him a primary victim. The fact that it was the negligent act of fitting a faulty gas valve, that endangered Bill, establishes a duty of care between Power plus and Bill.
In conclusion it can be said, that a duty of care is owed by Power plus to Bill, due to the fact that he is a primary victim as a rescuer. It is important to note however, that due to policy reasons, the courts can be quite reluctant to find duty of care as rescuer, as shown in Alcock10. This is due to the fact that, they wouldn’t want to open floodgates for claims. However in White11, the courts established that rescuers would only be considered primary victims if, they were objectively exposed to danger, even if the rescuer wasn’t necessarily of this danger.
BREACH OF THE DUTY OF CARE
The next thing to consider is that there needs to be a breach of that duty. The claimant needs to show that the defendant was in breach of that duty. There can only be a breach, if the defendant acts below the standards set by law12, as seen in Blyth v Birmingham Waterworks13. In other words, the defendant has to be at fault.
When Annie and Bill were called out to fix the gas leak, they found an old pipe which needed replacing. The fact that Power plus had installed a faulty gas valve in a house with an old gas pipe, is standard that falls well below the reasonable standards expected by a gas maintenance company. It is their job to maintain gas infrastructure within a home and install working gas valves without faults.
Therefore, in conclusion, Power plus have simply breached their duty of care, as they had installed a faulty gas valve, which was conduct that was well below the standard expected of Gas Company.
The final element needed for a claim to succeed is causation14, in other words, the damage the claimant suffered as a result of the breach of duty by the defendant. The defendant must have factually caused the damage, as shown in Barnett v Chelsea15. In addition, the defendant must also have legally caused the claimant’s damage as seen in Mcghee v NCB16, without being too remote.
In application, but for the negligence of Power plus in breaching their duty of care, would Bill’s psychiatric harm have occurred? In other words, but for exposing Bill as a rescuer, to danger, by installing faulty gas valves, would Bill’s psychiatric harm have occurred? The simple is yes. If Power plus had done their job by making sure they installed proper gas valves, then Bill’s psychiatric harm caused by the shock from trying to save Annie would not have occurred. In addition, Power plus’s installation of faulty gas valves, did materially contribute, as it led to a dangerous situation for Bill, who they sent to do his job.
Finally, psychiatric harm must not be too remote. To prove this we must consult Wagmound No117, which says that the damage must foreseeable. If it is, then the defendant will be liable for all damages, regardless of the extent. When applied to this, it is reasonable to see that psychiatric harm could occur, as an explosion could lead to all sorts of trauma, be it physical or psychologica