This article is authored by Kirti Bhushan, a student of Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi. The author seeks to explain briefly the role of the present case in the growth of the concept of nervous shock in one branch of Law i.e. Law of Torts.

Case Number

[1953] 1 All E.R. 617.

Equivalent Citation

[1953] 1 QB 429


Lord Justice Denning

Relevant Concepts of Law

Nervous Shock and Negligence under the Law of Torts.

Facts of the Case

In the present case, a taxi driver negligently backed his taxi. Owing to this act of the driver, a child behind his taxi, on a tricycle, got slightly injured. The mother of the child saw the taxi running into the tricycle of his child from seventy to eighty yards away but she did not see her child at that time. Consequently, the mother suffered shock due to the incident. Thus, the mother filed a claim for seeking damages from the driver claiming that she suffered a shock owing to the driver’s negligent driving and claiming him to be held liable for the same.

Issues Before the Court

Whether an action will lie for nervous shock, where the shock results, not from apprehension of injury to himself, but from fear of another’s safety?

In other words, whether the taxi-driver could reasonably have FORESEEN the risk of damage to her and thus is liable to pay the same?

Ratio of the Case

The taxi driver could have contemplated the injury has been inflicted on the child as his tricycle was behind his taxi while he was reversing the same but he could not have contemplated that the mother of the child could have suffered shock as she was seventy to eighty yards away from the place of incident. She suffered the shock merely at the sight of the tricycle being hit by the taxi. The child was the primary victim and if any sort of nervous shock could have been caused to or suffered by him, the taxi driver would have been liable. But the mother, who was not the victim in the case and was merely a spectator, cannot hold the driver liable for any damages caused to her because the driver could not have foreseen any damage to her. The Lord Justice Denning applied the principles laid down in Bourhill v. Young and held that “the driver could not have reasonably foreseen, that to back a cab in the way in which he did, would cause the injury complained of or any injury to the child’s mother, and that therefore owed no duty of care to her.”

Lord Justice Denning further said, “‘there can be no doubt since Bourhill v. Young that the test of liability for shock is foreseeability of injury by shock.’ A person ‘who suffers shock on being told of an accident to a loved one’ cannot recover damages from the negligent party on that account.”

Decision of the Court

As the taxi driver did not have any duty to care towards the mother of the child, she did not succeed in her claim to hold the taxi driver liable. Thus, the case of the mother was dismissed. The taxi driver was not held liable. The taxi driver was held liable only to the extent that the negligent driving resulted in a slight injury to the child and was held liable to pay damages to the child only.


Therefore, this case acknowledged that the test for liability of mental injury is based on the foreseeability of the injury caused. There cannot arise an action if a mere spectator who suffers the injury or nervous shock owing to the incident of negligence but is so distant that the negligent party could not foresee any damage being caused to such party.

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