Nervous Shock may be caused by words or acts of the defendant.
It may be induced by some accident due to the defendant’s negligence or on account of a false statement willfully made or due to (intimidation wrongdoing).
In such a case, the question is whether the shock and illness are in fact the natural and direct consequences of the wrongful act or default, if they are, the illness, and not the shock, furnishes the measurable damage.
In Hambrook vs Stocks bros,
The defendant's servant left a motor lorry at the top of the steep Street unattended, with the engine running.
The lorry started off by itself and ran violently down the incline.
The plaintiff's wife, who had been walking up the street with the children, had just parted with them a little below a point where the street made a bend, when she saw the lorry rushing round the bend towards her. She became very frightened for the safety of her children, who by that time were out of sight round the description of one of her children had been injured.
She suffered nervous shock which resulted in her death.
In this case it was held that it is not necessary that shock must be such as arises from reasonable fear of intermediate personal injury to oneself.
The defendants was held liable even though the lady suffering the nervous shock was not herself within the area of physical injury. It was held that, on the assumption that the shock was caused by what the women saw with her own eyes, as distinguished from what she was told by bystanders, the plaintiff was entitled to recover, notwithstanding that shock was brought about fear for children’s safety, and not by fear for her own life.
In Page vs Smith the plaintiff who was involved in a motor accident due to negligence of the defendant did not suffer any physical injury. He though in a position of primary victim, being directly involved in the accident, remained unhurt.
He however, suffered ‘myalgic encephalomyelitis’, a psychiatric illness with which he had earlier suffered but which was then in remission.
This illness which the plaintiff suffered as a result of the motor accident was not foreseeable in a person of ordinary fortitude but as personal injury of physical harm which the plaintiff did not suffered by him.
The balance of medical opinion was to the effect that the accident could have materially contributed to the recrudescence of plaintiff’s illness and the plaintiff was awarded damages on that basis.
The case also highlights the principle that the defendant’s wrongful act need not have been the sole or principal cause of the damage.
The defendant would be liable for the damage if his wrongful act caused or materially contributed to it notwithstanding that there were other factors for which he was not responsible which had contributed to the damage.