03 MAR 2015
Brock and another v Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust and another  EWHC 4244 (QB)
Negligence – Causation – nervous shock
High Court, Queen’s Bench Division: Judge Yelton
12 December 2014
Following the death of their daughter, claims of negligence and psychiatric injury (against the second defendant) were brought against Northampton Hospital and University Hospital Birmingham. Both claims were dismissed by the judge.
On 31 January 2009 the claimants’ daughter, Rachel consumed around 15 units of alcohol before ingesting 14 tablets of paracetamol. She was taken to A&E at Northampton General where she was discharged but advised to return to A&E if she felt unwell. After discharge Rachel complained of severe stomach ache and back pain and attended her GP at an out of hours surgery. The GP examined her and visited the Northampton A&E team next door, before being satisfied that her condition was stable. He discharged her, once more advising her to come back if she had any concerns.
Over the following days, Rachel’s condition worsened and she was diagnosed with severe liver failure and transferred to Birmingham Hospital (the second defendant) for an emergency liver transplant. High pressure developed in her brain and an intracranial pressure monitoring bolt was inserted. The bolt was negligently placed causing a brain hemorrhage of which Rachel subsequently died. It was common ground that Rachel would have died shortly afterwards in any event due to the severity of her liver failure and a lack of donor organs.
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Against the first defendant it was claimed that when the GP sought advice on Rachel’s management from the A & E team, that team then owed her a new duty of care. The claimants’ case against the second defendant was for their own nervous shock as a result of the admitted negligence in placing the bolt at their hospital.
On the first issue, the judge found that GP had only asked the A&E team for details of her blood levels. Simply being notified of Rachel presenting at the surgery was not sufficient to raise a duty of care and the A&E team were not under a duty to intervene in his care and the case against the first defendant was therefore dismissed.
On the second issue, during the proceedings it was established that the claimants’ trauma occurred when they received news by telephone phone. The judge held that although extremely upsetting, this was not a traumatic experience akin to witnessing an accident and the claims were dismissed.
A reminder of the difficulty in bringing claims for psychiatric injury only and how, if possible, early analysis of the specific circumstances of the onset of that injury are crucial to the case.
Summarised by Joseph Carr & Amy Wedgewood, Anthony Gold Solicitors