Skip to main content

Update on Nervous Shock Claims: Primary and Secondary Victims – An Irish Perspective Continued




The recently appealed case of Lisa Sheehan v Bus Éireann/Irish Bus and Vincent Dower [i]further affirms Ireland's position on primary and secondary victims in Nervous Shock cases. This Appeal is important in that it reiterates that the principles set out in Kelly v Hennessy[ii] remain good law in Ireland.
[i] [2022] IECA 28
[ii] [1995] 3 IR 253

These principles are:
  1. The Plaintiff must establish that he actually suffered “nervous shock” (a recognisable psychiatric illness)
  2. A Plaintiff must establish that his recognisable psychiatric illness was shock induced.
  3. A Plaintiff must prove that the nervous shock was caused by a Defendant’s act or omission.
  4. The nervous shock sustained by the Plaintiff must be by reason of the actual or apprehended physical injury to the Plaintiff or to a person other than the Plaintiff
  5. The Plaintiff must show that the Defendant owed him or her a duty of care not to cause him/her a reasonably foreseeable injury in the form of nervous shock.
Ms Sheehan, mother of two from Cork, was awarded €87,238 by the High Court in April 2020 after coming across the scene of a fatal accident involving a car and bus. Ms Sheehan was travelling on the N72 national secondary road near Mallow in County Cork when her car was struck by debris, not seeing what had happened Ms Sheehan pulled over and got out of the car. She came across the body of the driver of the vehicle who had been killed in the accident. She telephoned the emergency services and searched for further victims in the surrounding area.

The Defendants appealed on the basis that the Plaintiff should not recover as the Plaintiff suffering psychiatric injury was not foreseeable and the damages to remote.

Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal affirmed the High Court decision reiterating the position that the primary / secondary victim classification developed by the English courts together with the control mechanisms are not applicable in this jurisdiction.

The cases of Glencar[i] and Fletcher[ii] are the correct precedents to follow when considering the reasonable foreseeability, proximity and the reasonableness of the imposition of a duty of care based on the facts of the case.

Mr Justice Noonan went on to say that even if the primary and secondary victim criteria was the applicable law in Ireland, the Plaintiff would have recovered damages as she would have be regarded as primary victim as her car was struck by debris from the accident and was therefore at risk of physical injury making her injuries foreseeable.

This is an important decision as if re-affirms the law in Ireland in respect of nervous sock cases.  It confirms that the Courts will take a less prescriptive approach in respect of those entitled to recover for nervous shock than is applied
[i] Glencar Exploration plc v. Mayo County Counsel (No.2) [2002] IR 84
[ii] Fletcher v Commissioners of Public Works [2003] 1 IR 465

Written by: Leanne Kiernan

Sign up to our email digest

Click to subscribe or manage your email preferences.