Nervous Shock: Meaning and Examples

The incident of nervous shock at the cost of others’ action or inaction, usually covered under the Indian Tort Law. These types of torts are not committed through a breach of obligation. In order to comprehend how the concept of "nervous shock evolved in tort law, this article will examine what it means and provide a few significant examples where court rulings were made.

What is Nervous Shock?

According to medical terminology, nerve shock is characterized by a precipitous drop in blood pressure and the ensuing circulatory failure that causes pallor, perspiration, a quick but weak pulse, and occasionally totals collapse. Disease, harm, and psychological trauma are some of the causes. Shock lowers blood pressure below what is required to hydrate bodily tissues, particularly the brain.

  • A nerve shock is a mental sickness or injury that is caused by the purposeful, careless, or reckless actions or omissions of another person and is governed by English law. It is a shock that results from a valid concern about suffering immediate personal injury. It frequently manifests as a psychological disease brought on by witnessing an accident, such as harm done to one's parents or spouse.

  • Nervous shock is still used as a helpful acronym for a complex idea, despite being called "inaccurate" and "misleading" by critics. In English law, there are severe restrictions on how much compensation can be sought for a nerve shock, especially when it is the result of carelessness.

Who can bring a Nervous Shock Claim?

If it is determined by the court that the plaintiff has a genuine mental illness resulting from an event that the defendant should have anticipated being capable of causing a person of "normal fortitude" to suffer a diagnosable mental illness if reasonable care were not taken, then the plaintiff may bring a nervous shock claim.

A victim's close relative may be any of the following −

  • One of the victim's parents;

  • People who are the victims' parents;

  • The victim's spouse or domestic partner;

  • A victim's kid or stepchild; and

  • Any other individual for whom the victim is a parent.

Siblings, half-brothers or half-sisters, step-brothers and step-sisters are all included in the term. A husband, wife, or de facto partner is referred to as a "spouse or partner."

What is the legal test of a claim of nervous shock?

Three criteria are set down by common law to support a claim of nervous shock −

  • That the defendant owes the plaintiff a duty of care; and

  • That the plaintiff could experience psychological harm as a result of the defendant's action or inaction was reasonably foreseeable; and

  • That the plaintiff's injury was brought on by the defendant's careless act or omission.

Compensation for Nervous Shock Claim

The following may be able to claimed −

Victims in Nervous Shock Case

There are two types of victims-

  • Primary Victim: A victim who is directly hurt in an accident due to the negligence of a tortfeasor is said to be a primary victim.

  • Secondary Victim: A secondary victim is someone who experiences nervous shock as a result of the accident that caused the initial victim, without being physically put at risk.

Evolution of Law of Nervous Shock

Over the years, the courts have developed the law of nerve shock. Instead of merely considering claims involving immediate shock, they now consider claims from individuals that take into account a variety of potential outcomes. Since it would be extremely challenging to outline and define the precise parameters of liability in this field, the courts were initially slow to recognize claims for psychiatric illness. This was because it was believed that it would attract shady and false claims made under the guise of psychiatric illness.

For instance, it may be difficult to demonstrate the connection between the defendant's actions and the plaintiff's shock as a result of those actions.

Case Laws for Nervous Shock

Bourhill vs. Young

Fact of the Case- The House of Lords was the first to address the issue of responsibility for mental illness. It will be noted that this is in reference to a pregnant woman who, as she exited the tram, heard the distant sound of a car accident. She then visited the accident scene, observed blood on the road, and later experienced a miscarriage brought on by stress.

Judgment of the case- The woman was actually declared not to be a "foreseeable claimant" by the House of Lords. In other words, she was not allowed to base her decision on harm done to another person.

McLoughlin vs. O’Brian

Fact of the Case- Although the plaintiff in this case was not present near the event, she was upset to learn about it.

Judgment of the case- The House of Lords held the defendants accountable and broadened the legislation to apply in cases where the plaintiff arrived right after the accident but had not personally witnessed or heard it. Three things, according to Lord Wilberforce, would need to be determined in each case:

  • The group of people whose claims need to be accepted;

  • Their proximity to the disaster; and

  • The mechanisms that led to mental disease. Following a unanimous House of Lords vote, these three control mechanisms proposed by Lord Wilberforce were recast and implemented.


Considering the aforementioned instances and interpretations, it is evident that courts have considered the effects of damages and have been interpreted to encompass other acts as part of the development of tort law.


Q1. What time limits apply to a nervous shock claim?

Ans. The statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit for personal injury, including claims for nerve shock, is three years from the date of the incident.

Q2. Which case is leading in nervous shock?

Ans. The landmark case of McLoughlin v. O'Brian followed in 1983. In this case, the plaintiff was not there at the time of the accident but experienced nervous shock when she learned of it.

Q3. What are claims for nervous shock?

Ans. Nervous shock is another name for psychiatric injury claims. This is due to one of the requirements you must meet being that you witnessed a "shocking event" that gave you "nervous shock" as a result of seeing it. (a psychiatric injury).

Q4. Is nervous shock a psychiatric injury?

Ans. Nervous shock is a psychological condition or harm that a person has as a result of anything that happened as a result of someone else's purposeful, negligent, or reckless actions or omissions.

Updated on: 11-Apr-2023


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