The Personal Injury Blog

Why being a witness could mean you are eligible to claim

I recently settled a case on behalf of a gentleman who was witness to a frightening accident to his wife.

They were in a large supermarket close to their home when a 30 foot wide shelving unit fell directly onto his wife, while he was stood about 15 meters away, powerless to help.

Fortunately his wife was thrown backwards by the impact of the shelving unit, and her injuries were not as serious as they might have been. Our client initially believed his wife had been crushed and was underneath the unit.

Since then, as a result of what he witnessed, our client has been suffering flashbacks and very frightening dreams. He finds his mind is racing and he is constantly thinking the worst will happen in everyday situations.

So what does the law say?

It is possible for a person to witness an accident to another person, and who suffers injury as a result of what they saw, to claim compensation as a “secondary victim”.

The law developed following two important cases, where Judges, in the aftermath of the Hillsborough football disaster, changed the law to make it possible for some people who witness accidents, and are affected by what they see, to claim compensation.

The courts have created a number of tests which must be passed before it is possible for a person to claim as a secondary victim.

  1. They must have a relationship of love and affection with the primary victim;
  2. They must have witnessed the event or its “immediate aftermath”;
  3. They must have a “direct perception of the harm to the primary victim”, and;
  4. Be a fairly resilient person (in the Judge’s words “of reasonable fortitude”)

In every case I have seen, the witness develops a psychological injury as a result of what they have seen. A detailed assessment by a psychologist or psychiatrist is essential in these cases.

Fortunately, with time and therapy, most people go on to make a good recovery. My client who thought his wife had been crushed to death gradually came to terms with what had happened and as his wife’s injuries slowly improved, his psychological symptoms began to ease. Specialist psychological therapy helped him gain better insight into his injury and gave him the tools to cope better with how he was feeling.

If you think you, or someone you know has suffered psychological harm as a result of witnessing an accident to a loved one, don’t hesitate to contact us on 0114 218 4000 or email

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