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Medical Shock & Stress Related Claims

Medical negligence can cause emotional or psychiatric damage to those directly affected or to close relatives who witness the negligent act or its immediate aftermath and have to deal with it. A husband or partner present when poor care by midwives means something goes wrong during the delivery of a baby may be just as psychologically damaged as the woman giving birth.


Severe psychological injuries are common in an accident or personal injury claim either to those directly involved or those immediately witnessing a traumatic event, but psychiatric injury can also result from sub-standard or negligent treatment by medical professionals and persist long after a victim recovers physically.

While it is still feasible for close relations who witness a traumatic event to make a shock-related claim in personal injury cases, a re-interpretation of the law has made it much harder, and in many cases impossible, for relatives to make a claim for psychological injury in a medical negligence case.

You’ll find more information in our guide to who can claim for psychological injury, but generally anyone who directly experiences mental or emotional damage as a consequence of clinical negligence will have a good case for making a claim.

In order to make a successful claim, Shoosmiths would have to establish that those psychiatric injuries were caused by the negligent act and obtain medical evidence to confirm that the illness was a recognisable psychiatric condition rather than just ‘normal’ shock or grief.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is probably the best known of the reactive psychiatric illnesses, but several other diagnosed depressive disorders, adjustment disorders or anxiety disorders would also qualify as ‘recognisable illnesses’ for which it would be possible to make a claim.

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This is specialist work requiring both legal and medical knowledge to understand and appreciate what evidence is required and to interpret that evidence when it is obtained.

Your lawyers must have relationships with the appropriate medical experts who can assess whether your care was indeed sub-standard. However in these cases psychiatric experts must also be engaged to determine the nature of your psychological injuries.

Mental harm is less obvious than gross physical damage but can be just as debilitating. We will need expert opinion to confirm your prognosis and also to establish that you are indeed suffering from a ‘recognisable psychiatric illness’ and therefore entitled to claim.

Shoosmiths must show that the failure or delay in diagnosing your problems and the impact that may have had on giving your prompt treatment was negligent. We must be able to prove that, in all likelihood, you suffered psychological as well as physical harm as a direct consequence of sub-standard care.

There are time limits to making these claims and it’s best if we speak with you as soon as possible. If you feel you may have a case, call us for a free initial consultation. Our priority will always be your health and well-being. Our specialist solicitors can give you the benefit of our experience in stress claims as well as an objective assessment of whether your claim is likely to be successful.

It’s difficult to give a precise timescale in these claims and cases, but they can take a long time to resolve. It depends how serious your stress or shock-related injuries are, how long it may take to determine the nature of your injuries and whether the other side admits liability quickly or decides to drag things out by denying any blame.

We'll need access to records and evidence from independent experts, initially to see if there's a case to be answered but also to establish that your condition is a recognisable psychiatric illness. We then need to get evidence about what help and support you are likely to require in future and how much that might cost.

Your individual personal circumstances and career prospects will also dictate how long we'll need to enable us to take account of lost earnings if you cannot return to work. This information is vital so that all the necessary medical and financial evidence is to hand.

The attitude of the other side also affects the time it takes to settle. Sometimes, they'll accept liability and our evidence and valuation or they may choose to dispute everything. We'll then enter into negotiations to try to reach a settlement. It’s rare for these cases to go to trial, but some do and that too will add time.

We will always aim to settle your case without delay, but it’s important we take the time to achieve the best possible outcome that helps you to a speedy recovery.

In order to determine whether you have a case for making a stress and shock related illness claim as a consequence of clinical negligence, it will be necessary to establish that a doctor has failed to meet the relevant standard of care.

We then need to show that this failure directly caused your psychological injuries or significantly contributed to them. It may be easy to prove that the doctor did something wrong but often it’s difficult to show that this error directly caused your injuries. It’s also difficult to prove that, although a client may be in obvious mental distress, their anxiety qualifies as a recognised mental illness.

For example, you may suffer extreme distress bordering on grief because a negligent cosmetic surgery procedure has completely undermined your self-confidence and self-esteem. However, unless your distress is considered a recognised psychiatric illness, you will not be able to bring a claim for psychological injury or include that emotional and mental damage as a part of a clinical negligence claim.

Awards of general damages in these cases can be very low. Most of the money will usually be awarded for future loss rather than for the actual injury itself. Our understanding and experienced lawyers will talk you though all the options and have excellent contacts with leading psychiatric experts who can diagnose your condition and help determine whether you have a case.

The law has always distinguished 'recognised psychological illnesses' from shock, fear, anxiety or grief which are regarded as 'normal emotional consequences' and for which damages have never been awarded.

A primary victim - the person directly receiving the negligent treatment who was injured - would have little trouble making a claim provided those psychological injuries were a diagnosed and acknowledged psychiatric illness.

These shock and stress-related illnesses can have a variety of broadly similar symptoms, ranging from being lethargic or feeling irritable and isolated to physical effects such as loss of bladder or bowel control and breathing difficulties. Lives can be ruined by these debilitating illnesses and in the severest cases the victim may never fully recover.

In any stress or shock-related claim it’s necessary to show that the doctor breached their duty of care by their negligent action or inaction. Causation (proving that negligence directly caused your psychiatric illness) is more complicated than proving physical harm in these cases.

It’s easy to show that a surgeon has amputated the wrong leg for example. Although reasonable to assume that psychological harm may also be expected, its existence and direct relation to that event is harder to prove, even on the ‘balance of probabilities’. If you’re unsure whether you do have a case for making a claim, get in touch with Shoosmiths now to find out.

Secondary victim compensation William story

Secondary Victim Compensation - William's Story


Man awarded compensation after witnessing the aftermath of his partner setting herself alight while an in-patient at hospital

Man awarded compensation after witnessing the aftermath of his partner setting herself alight while an in-patient at hospital

William’s partner, Jane, who suffered with epilepsy, was admitted to Northampton General Hospital after having a seizure. Despite Jane suffering from irrational and strange behaviour, the hospital did nothing.

Jane was allowed to have her curtains closed and consequently set fire to herself, the impact was devastating.

Read how Shoosmiths ensured Jane and William received substantial compensation for clinical negligence here.

'Shoosmiths got me the rehab I needed and really helped with my family. They were fantastic throughout.'

Nicola Cooper, who suffered a serious brain injury after a seemingly trivial car accident.

Stress Shock Related Illness

We choose this work because we care about helping genuine claimants in these cases. You'll find our experienced solicitors to be approachable and supportive as well as professional and effective.

Why Shoosmiths

Who we work with

  • Brain Injury Group
  • Child Brain Injury Trust
  • Headway
  • SIA
  • Back Up
  • Macmillan
  • Danielles Flutterbyes
  • Forces
  • Bens Heroes Trust

Our accreditations

  • Accredited Personal Injury
  • Apil
  • Ama
  • Clinical Negligence
  • Legal 500
  • UK Chambers
  • The Society Of Clinical Injury Lawyers