White v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police

A Summary (Straight from Westlaw).

The Chief Constable appealed against a ruling ([1998] Q.B. 255, [1996] C.L.Y. 4533) allowing the appeal of four police officers, P, against the dismissal of their action against the Chief Constable and others for damages for negligence and/or breach of statutory duty. P had all suffered post traumatic stress disorder as a result of their involvement in the aftermath of the Hillsborough Football Stadium disaster in which many spectators had been killed and injured. The Chief Constable admitted that the disaster had been caused by police negligence in allowing overcrowding to occur, but disputed P's entitlement to recover damages in tort for the psychiatric injury they had suffered. P contended that justice demanded that they be compensated for the harm they had suffered as a result of a tort and that there was no justification for treating physical and psychiatric injury as different kinds of damage. P further argued that they were entitled to recover damages either on the basis of an employer's duty to protect employees from harm through work or by virtue of their status as rescuers.

Held, allowing the appeal, (Lord Goff dissenting and Lord Griffiths dissenting in part) that a chief constable owed officers under him a duty analogous to that of an employer to care for the safety of employees and to take reasonable steps to protect them from physical harm, but there was no extension of that duty to protect from psychiatric injury where there was no breach of the duty to protect from physical injury. As a result, the employment relationship did not create a liability on the Chief Constable for psychiatric injury sustained by P who had not been involved in the disaster as rescuers and it was not possible to classify P as primary victims, since none of them were at any time exposed to personal danger nor reasonably believed themselves to be so, Page v Smith [1996] A.C. 155 considered. Recognition of P's claims would significantly widen the established categories of cases for which damages could be recovered for pure psychiatric harm and to allow the claims would not fit easily with the decision in Alcock v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire [1992] 1 A.C. 310 to deny compensation to bereaved relatives of victims of the disaster who had not witnessed events at first hand or acted as rescuers. The fact that P's injuries were sustained in the course of discharging their duties as police officers did not of itself justify extending the law so as to allow their claims.