White v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire (1998): psychiatric harm and rescuers.

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

Main arguments in this case: Can a rescuer be entitled to claim for psychiatric harm?

The fact of the case: The case is related to the Hillsborough stadium disaster that took place in 1989 during the FA Cup semi-final between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool. The main cause of the disaster was due to spectators overcrowding which consequently resulted in the crush and left 96 people dead and hundreds more injured.

A claim for post-traumatic stress disorder was brought by the police officers who were involved in the aftermath of the disaster by virtue of their employment as well as the help and rescue work they carried out for the victims.

The issue before the court was if these officers should be treated as rescuers, or treated on the basis of a primary or a secondary victim.  The court decided that the rescue work the police officers carried out for the victims did not have a special position and therefore their claim was to be considered under the normal route (if the officers were primary or secondary victims).

The court found that the policemen were not primary victims as they were not at any time exposed to physical harm, or reasonably believed to be so. Their claim under the rule of secondary victim also failed as there was no close relationship of love and affection between any of the victims and the claimants.

The decision in this case came out quite opposite to the case of Chadwick v British Railways Board, in which the rescuer was allowed damages even though he was not in the danger of being physically harmed, or reasonably believed so.

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