Medical Law

Mental Trauma (Nervous shock)

A second possible claim is for mental trauma or ‘nervous shock’ as a result of either witnessing an event or the sudden discovery of negligence.  Mental trauma on its own (ie without physical injury) is not covered by ACC and therefore there is no bar to bringing such a claim.

Claims can also be brought by relatives if they have been traumatised by what they have seen or heard. 

To succeed in a claim for mental trauma, you  need to establish that:

  • A wrongdoer has breached a duty of care that they owed to you.
  • As a result of that breach, you have suffered a recognisable psychiatric injury over and above what is considered to be “normal” grief, distress and sorrow following the loss of or severe injury to a loved one. 
  • The ‘injury’ suffered needs to be directly linked to the actions of the wrongdoer.
  • You need to have suffered damage ie pain and suffering and/or economic loss. 

There is little guidance in New Zealand as to the likely amount of damages.  Awards for pain and suffering tend to be modest depending on the extent of the physical harm.  Awards for economic loss can be higher; and useful guidance can be obtained from overseas awards (which are frequent).  Examples include an Australian case where total damages of $380,000 were awarded to the parents of a child who died and an English case where damages of ₤300,000 were awarded in a similar situation.

There are time limits within which a claim of this nature must be filed with the court.

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