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Reilly & Anor v Merseyside Regional Health Authority [1994] EWCA 30      Court of Appeal

The claimants, Mr & Mrs Reilly, were visiting the defendant’s maternity hospital to see their new born grandson. Unfortunately they got trapped in the overcrowded lift for one hour and 20 minutes. At the time of the incident Mr Riley was 61 and had a pre-existing condition of angina, Mrs Riley was 68 and had a pre-existing condition of claustrophobia. In the lift both suffered symptoms of claustrophobia becoming hot and sweaty, difficulty in breathing and dizziness. Both were in a state of collapse when they were released. They both had difficulty in sleeping and suffered nightmares for a few days after the incident. The trial judge having heard medical evidence held that although their conditions fell short of post-traumatic stress disorder or chronic anxiety, were of sufficient severity to entitle them to recover. The Health Authority appealed on the grounds that in the absence of a recognisable illness there is no compensatable damage. Claustrophobia and fear are normal emotions as oppose to injuries.

Held:

The appeal was allowed. There must be a recognised psychiatric condition to give rise to damages. Physical symptoms of fear and panic such as sweating and breathing difficulties was not sufficient .

Mann LJ:

“there must be an identifiable psychiatric condition. The sound policy of the law is that the excitement of a normal human emotion, together with its normal physical consequence, is not compensatable. Here there was no recognisable psychiatric injury, but only normal emotion in the face of a most unpleasant experience. ”