Bourhill v Young (1943): foreseeability and duty of care.

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Areas of applicable law: Tort law – Negligence – Foreseeability – Psychiatric harm

Main arguments in this case: A defendant can only be liable if the rule of foreseeability is met.

This case illustrates that if the defendant cannot reasonably foresee that his or her acts would cause harm to the claimant, even though the claimant was actually harmed due to the consequence of the act carried out by the defendant, the defendant cannot be held liable for negligence. 

The case also shows that to make a claim as a secondary victim in psychiatric harm, the defendant also has to prove that there was a close relationship of love and affection.

The fact of the case:Miss Bourhill was coming off a tram when she saw a motorcyclist speeding up, losing control, and moments later colliding with a car. Miss Bourhill was about 50 yards away from the spot where the accident had taken place, and she did not see the collision herself but only heard a big loud bang which was due to the collision. Later she was at the spot where it had happened and saw lots of blood. The claimant was about eight months pregnant and later had miscarriage. She later claimed damages for nervous shock and miscarriage due to the negligence of the motorcyclist.

The claimant did not succeed in her claim as it was not foreseeable that she would suffer from shock and miscarriage due to the incident. The motorcyclist never came into her contact, she was neither at the scene where the accident had happened.

What the court was saying that if the claimant did not see, or come in contact, and was away from the scene where the accident took place, then it was not foreseeable for the defendant to see that his action would cause her harm.

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