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Detailed Practice Notes written by our Professional Support Lawyers, guiding you through the key issues in each topic.
Psychiatric and occupational stress claims - overviewPsychiatric injury - recognised psychiatric illnesses
To succeed in a psychiatric illness or nervous shock claim the claimant must first prove that they have developed a psychiatric injury or illness which is more than temporary grief or fright. Depression and post-traumatic stress disorder are common examples of psychiatric illnesses which can lead to successful claims if their cause can be linked to the index event.
Psychiatric injury - establishing liability
To succeed in a claim for psychiatric illness or nervous shock the claimant must show that there was a foreseeable risk that the index event would cause psychiatric injury.
In assessing liability a contrast must be drawn between:
Psychiatric injury - primary victims
Primary victims are directly involved in the event and normally have physical injuries as well as psychiatric injuries. To establish liability, a primary victim must show that it was reasonably foreseeable that a person would suffer a physical or psychiatric injury as a result of the defendant's negligent act.
Psychiatric injury - secondary victims
Secondary victims are normally witnesses of the injuries sustained by the primary victim. A secondary victim must demonstrate that it was reasonably foreseeable that a person of reasonable fortitude would suffer a psychiatric injury as a result of witnessing the injury to the primary victim. The court will consider whether the claimant has a sufficiently close relationship with the primary victim and whether they had sufficient proximity to the accident. In addition, the secondary victim must show that the psychiatric illness was induced by shock as a result of the sudden appreciation of a horrifying event.
Psychiatric injury - other types of claimant
Sometimes psychiatric injury will occur in circumstances where there is a pre-existing legal relationship between the claimant and the defendant where the nature of that relationship is such that it imposes a duty on the defendant to take reasonable care not to inflict psychiatric injury.
Occupational stress - introduction
The Health and Safety Executive defines occupational stress as the 'reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed upon them.' Any recognised psychiatric illness which has foreseeably developed as a result of stresses encountered in the workplace can, in principle, found an occupational stress claim. If the claimant is simply suffering from occupational stress (ie stress at work), and does not have a recognisable psychiatric injury, then they will not have a claim of this kind.
Occupational stress - establishing liability
To successfully establish liability in an occupational stress claim the claimant must show that:
the employer failed to provide a safe place of work
the occupational stress that the employee was subjected to was sufficient to create a reasonably foreseeable risk of injury
the employer failed to do all that they reasonably could to prevent the occupational stress from arising
the employee suffered an illness as a direct result of their occupational stress
When assessing whether the employer is liable the court will consider whether the defendant had fallen below the standard properly expected of a reasonable and prudent employer taking positive steps for the safety of its workers in light of what the employer knew or ought to have known. When considering whether there has been a breach of duty the court will require evidence of:
the nature and extent of the tasks required of the claimant including details of deadlines and targets
the results of any health surveillance the employer had in place
any complaints made by the claimant or other members of staff undertaking a similar role to the employer
the claimant's occupational health records showing any periods of absence or sickness
the claimant's personnel file with the minutes of any meetings relating to workloads/working environment/management/bullying issues
any medical records or reports which were or should have been available to the employer
any preventative/reactive measures put in place by the employer to reduce occupational stress
In extreme cases, the claimant may have a possible claim under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 although the claimant must demonstrate that the behaviour which caused the injury was serious and of a level which would attract a criminal liability.
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