Galli-Atkinson v Seghal
Court of Appeal
Citations:  EWCA Civ 697;  Lloyd’s Rep Med 285; (2004) 78 BMLR 22;  CLY 3028.
The defendant’s negligent driving killed the claimant’s teenage daughter. The claimant arrived at the scene of the accident around an hour after it had happened. She did not see her daughter’s body, but she knew a serious accident had happened. A police officer then told her that her daughter was dead. However, the claimant seemed to be in denial about this.
Two hours after the accident, the claimant attended the mortuary, where she saw her daughter’s badly-disfigured body. The claimant suffered psychiatric illness. Expert evidence indicated that her illness was due to the totality of her visit to the accident site, being told of the death, and seeing the body.
The claimant sued the defendant in negligence over the psychiatric harm she suffered. The defendant argued that they did not owe the claimant a duty to avoid causing psychiatric harm, because the Alcock criteria were not satisfied. In particular, they argued that the claimant’s illness had not been caused by witnessing the event or its immediate aftermath.
At first instance, the judge held that the visit to the mortuary was not part of the immediate aftermath of the accident. Since being told about a horrifying event by a third-party is insufficient to fulfil the Alcock criteria, the claimant could not rely on the police telling her about the death. The claimant appealed.
- What constituted the immediate aftermath of the accident in this case?
The Court of Appeal held in favour of the claimant. The visit to the mortuary was sufficiently proximate to the accident to be part of its aftermath. The claimant’s travel from the scene of the accident to the mortuary was part of an uninterrupted sequences of events constituting the immediate aftermath.
This Case is Authority For…
Things that happen several hours after the event can be part of the immediate aftermath so long as they are sufficiently proximate. The immediate aftermath can be made of several components.
Wilson J commented that a visit to a mortuary is more likely to fall outside of the immediate aftermath if its purpose is merely to identify the body. It is more likely to fall within the immediate aftermath if it occurs shortly after the accident and its purpose is convincing the claimant that their loved one is dead.