Law Report: Claustrophobia and fear not compensatable Reilly and another v Merseyside Regional Health Authority - Court of Appeal (Lord Justice Butler-Sloss, Lord Justice Mann and Lord Justice Saville), 28 April 1994

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Claustrophobia and fear, even when they produced physical reactions such as sweating and vomiting, were within the normal human emotional experience and were not compensatable by damages for negligence unless they amounted to a recognisable psychiatric condition such as post- traumatic stress disorder.

The Court of Appeal allowed an appeal by the defendant, Merseyside Regional Health Authority, against the judgment of Judge Lynch, sitting in Liverpool County Court on 3 November 1992, who awarded each of the plaintiffs, Mr and Mrs William Reilly, pounds 1,750 in damages for negligence after they had been trapped for an hour and 20 minutes in a lift at one of the defendant's hospitals.

James McKeon (Hill Dickinson Davis Campbell, Liverpool) for

the defendant; Graham Wood (Paul Rooney, Liverpool) for the


LORD JUSTICE MANN said on 3 January 1990 the plantiffs went to the defendants' maternity hospital in Mill Road, Liverpool, to visit a new-born grandson in a ward on the second floor. The plantiffs took the lift, as did a number of other people. The lift was overloaded, with the consequence that, soon after it started to ascend, it stopped and the occupants were trapped in the cage.

The lift had a history of jamming due to overloading and the authority should have installed a cut-out device or warning buzzer. The defendant did not dispute breach of a duty of care, but denied that the tort of negligence had been consummated by the occurrence of damage.

The judge found that Mr Reilly, who was 61 at the time and suffered from angina, had become so psychologically disturbed in the lift because of claustrophobia and worries about his wife, who was already claustrophobic, that he became hot and sweaty and felt he would choke. When eventually released from the lift he could not walk at first, had to be helped up the stairs. Later he could not sleep at night and suffered chest pains brought on by the experience he had gone through.

Mrs Reilly, who had pre-existing claustrophobia, had been very panicky in the lift and worried about her husband's angina. She found it hard to breathe and became dizzy. Her knees gave way when the lift was opened. She could not sleep and had nightmares for a few days. Both were in a state of collapse when they left the lift.

The judge found these symptoms constituted physical injury; or if not physical then psychological injury or illness which, although not amounting to post- traumatic stress disorder or chronic anxiety state, was of sufficient severity to entitle them to recover damages.

In referring to physical injury, the judge fell into error; none had been asserted or proven. Moreover, there was no recognisable psychiatric injury, but only normal human emotion in the face of a most unpleasant experience.

It was clear from the authorities such as Hinz v Berry (1970) 2 QB 40 at 42-43, McLoughlin v O'Brian (1983) 1 AC 410 at 431, and Hicks v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire (1992) 1 All ER 690 at 693 and (1992) 2 All ER 65 at 69, that the excitement of normal human emotion, together with its normal physical consequences, was not compensatable; there must be an identifiable psychiatric condition.

Accordingly, the appeal should be allowed on the basis that there was no damage and the tort of

negligence was therefore not