Nervous shock In Law of Torts - Explained In Detail


An action in tort also lies for nervous shock and bodily illness caused by it. The reason is that the control and functioning of the body depend upon the nervous system and the shock to the nervous system may render a person incapable to perform ordinary functions and as such, it can be equated with bodily injury. But when bodily illness or disorder does not follow the nervous shock, it is not actionable.

The tort of nervous shock covers two classes of cases:

(1) intentional wrongdoing; and

(2) negligence on the part of the defendant

The first case of 'nervous shock' was reported to have taken place in England, in 1888, when one Miss Cpultas claimed damages on account of nervous shock she received owing to the opening of railway gates by the level crossing keeper negligently. She escaped death by inches when the train thundered in. As a result of shock to her nerves, she fell seriously ill. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council disallowed damages particularly because they did not want to establish a new precedent. It was also not possible for them to establish a connection between the shock and the resultant physical injury, as knowledge on the subject in those times was deficient.

In India, the tort of nervous shock has been recognized and is actionable, if it is caused by fear, though there may not be an actual physical impact. The action arises out of a breach of ordinary duty to take reasonable care to avoid inflicting injuries followed by damage. In Halligua v. Mohan Sundaram, the plaintiff who was traveling in the defendant's taxi became unconscious when it collided with the tram car. After regaining consciousness, she found herself bleeding badly from the nose and mouth and could not stretch her hands and her fingers became stiff. It was held that bodily injury is not only that which is externally visible but includes shock to the nervous system by which a person is rendered incapable to pursue ordinary activities of life, and action will lie if such injury is directly attributable to negligence.

In Deep Chand v. Manak Chand it was held that mental worry is not actionable. It is too trivial to be considered an injury in the legal sense.

More recently the courts in India have been more generous in awarding damages for nervous shock. The mental agony caused by the acts of public authorities and hospital authorities has been held to have caused nervous shock and damages were awarded.

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