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Motor Vehicle Accidents & Nervous Shock

Connor Boccalatte
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06 September 2022

Motor Vehicle Accidents & Invisible Damage

Unfortunately motor vehicle accidents are a far too common occurrence, resulting in a range of consequences from the most minor of damage to extreme injury as well as fatalities. These tragic events may not only affect you but many others, from loved ones to first responders.

For example, if a loved one suffers a sudden and unexpected death in a motor vehicle accident, it is common for a person to suffer a psychiatric injury if they witness the incident or when they are informed of the death. This is often referred to as nervous shock.

Although these injuries are not as clear to see as a broken arm, you may still experience ‘loss and damage’ for which you may claim compensation if it is caused by someone else.

For example, you may be unable to work because of anxiety or another form of nervous shock you suffered from the accident, causing you to suffer a loss of income.

You may require medical treatment or counselling to help deal with and treat your injury, as you would for a broken arm.

You may also be entitled to an amount of compensation due to the severity of the psychiatric injury you have suffered.

Elements of Nervous Shock

For a compensation claim to succeed you (the person who suffered the nervous shock) must establish that:

  1. A shocking event must have occurred – i.e. a motor vehicle accident.
  2. You must have actually witnessed the shocking event or observed its immediate aftermath or have had been told about it, as soon as reasonably practicable, and before you had or should reasonably have reached a settled state of mind about it.  It should be noted that the person making the communication will not be liable, unless they intended to cause psychiatric injury.
  3. The event must have been likely to or foreseeable that it would cause psychiatric injury to a person of ‘normal fortitude’ or courage.
  4. There needs to exist a special or close relationship between you and the deceased, such as parent and child. This will add a duty of care to be owed to these third parties also.  This duty of care may be found to extend to persons such as grandparents, legal guardians, step parents, your spouse or partner, and relationships where it is determined that a special or close relationship existed between you and the deceased. This is to be investigated for each unique matter.
  5. A true psychiatric injury directly attributable to the subject incident must have been experienced, and diagnosed by a medical expert.
  6. Any pre-existing psychiatric conditions would be a relevant factor to consider in relation to causation (the cause of the injury) and whether the psychiatric injury was caused by the motor vehicle accident.

The damages that you may seek to recover in a nervous shock claim, only extends as far as is practicable, to put you back in the position you would have been if the accident did not occur.

Each claim must be determined based on its own unique set of circumstances and merit.

The amount of damages you may be entitled to will depend on the severity of your injury and its duration. Has the psychiatric illness resulting from the shock caused permanent disability or impairment where you can no longer work or properly look after yourself?

Minimising Your Loss

Motor vehicle accidents frequently occur on Australian roads. Many of these accidents can result in tragic circumstances, for the parties involved, as well as loved ones and others.

If the elements of the claim are met, as outlined above, you may have a right to pursue a compensation claim for damages for nervous shock.

There are strict time limits that apply to personal injury claims including claims for nervous shock. If a claim is not commenced prior to the expiry of these strict time limits the claim may be deemed to be statute barred, meaning a person may no longer have the legal right to pursue the claim.

A successful claim for compensation can help you further your treatment and provide the necessary support for you to manage both physical and psychiatric injuries and hopefully get you as close as possible to your normal life.