Page v Smith (1996): Foreseeability and psychiatric harm.

“Page v Smith” is a landmark and authoritative case in the realm of tort law, specifically in situations involving negligence leading to psychiatric harm suffered by the victim.

Areas of applicable law:: This case revolves around tort law, specifically examining the concept of negligence liability in cases of psychiatric harm.

Key Legal Issues Explored: This case delves into essential questions regarding primary and secondary victims in negligence cases and the role of foreseeability in psychiatric harm claims.

Factual Background: The plaintiff, Mr. Page, found himself in a minor car accident that left him physically unharmed. However, this incident triggered a resurgence of his myalgic encephalomyelitis (commonly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), a condition he had managed for two decades prior to the accident. While his condition was in remission, Mr. Page argued that the accident exacerbated his symptoms, rendering him unable to work. Consequently, he initiated a legal claim against the defendant, alleging psychiatric harm as a consequence of the accident. The defendant acknowledged negligence but contended that he was not responsible for the psychiatric harm, citing its unforeseeability and thus ineligibility for compensation as a primary harm.

Legal Ruling: The House of Lords rendered a pivotal decision in this case. They held that if it was reasonably foreseeable that the defendant’s actions could lead to physical harm to the victim, a duty of care would be established. Importantly, it did not matter what kind of injury the victim experienced, including psychiatric harm. Furthermore, the Lords clarified that when assessing cases involving psychiatric harm, foreseeability was not a necessary criterion.

The court also made a clear distinction between primary and secondary victims. According to their ruling, a primary victim was someone directly involved in an accident and, as a result, suffered physical or mental harm or genuinely believed they were at imminent risk of such harm. On the other hand, a secondary victim was an individual who witnessed a primary victim sustaining injury or feared for the well-being of the primary victim regarding potential harm.

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