‘Secondary victim’ denied compensation

Posted: 25th June 2015

SurgeonsIn a decision that will come as a huge relief to the NHS, a man who was traumatised by the sight of his stricken wife in hospital following a botched operation has been denied compensation by the Court of Appeal.

The ambulance driver suffered acute nervous shock after a negligent hysterectomy left his wife fighting for her life. The onset of peritonitis led to her body swelling to such a degree that he described her as ‘looking like a Michelin man’. She was in intensive care for nine weeks and received £160,000 in compensation after the NHS trust which ran the hospital admitted liability in full.

Her husband was awarded damages of £9,000 for his psychiatric injuries by a judge on the basis that he was a ‘secondary victim’ of the negligence. However, NHS lawyers challenged the decision and expressed particular concern that the award would open the floodgates to a large number of similar claims.

Allowing the trust’s appeal, the Court noted that the husband was to some extent conditioned to shocking sights by his work in the ambulance service. The events that he witnessed were ‘not horrifying by objective standards’. What happened to his wife was not in context exceptional and the assault on his senses was neither shocking nor sudden enough to qualify him as a secondary victim.