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How shocking: compensating secondary victims for psychiatric injury

  • Keith Rix and Charlie Cory-Wright

When those whom the law terms ‘secondary victims’ – i.e. the passive and unwilling witnesses of injury, or of the threat of it, to others – seek compensation through the courts for the psychiatric injuries that they have suffered (traditionally but confusingly referred to as ‘nervous shock’ claims), there would in theory be the potential for a virtually limitless number of claims. For this reason, the courts have developed and apply a number of, to a large extent, arbitrary ‘control mechanisms’ as floodgates. This article describes these control mechanisms and other relevant law using recent illustrative cases and with particular reference to the assistance that the courts can expect of psychiatrists as to diagnosis and causation.


  • Understand the law relating to the compensation of secondary victims for psychiatric injury
  • Appreciate the arbitrariness of the application of the law, as demonstrated in particular by recent cases of such claims by secondary victims
  • Understand the proper role of (and limits of) expert psychiatric evidence in secondary victim cases, and therefore how best to assist the courts in relation to them



Corresponding author
Correspondence Professor Keith J.B. Rix, The Fermoy Unit, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gayton Road, King's Lynn PE30 4ET, UK. Email:
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Based on a joint presentation by the authors at The Fifteenth Grange Annual Conference, Ripley Castle, September 2016.

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*Suggested further reading.
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BJPsych Advances
  • ISSN: 2056-4678
  • EISSN: 2056-4686
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How shocking: compensating secondary victims for psychiatric injury

  • Keith Rix and Charlie Cory-Wright
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