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Nervous Shock: What is it?

Nervous Shock Claim

Co-written by Mai O’Regan (Paralegal)

If a psychological injury is inflicted upon you by either an intentional or negligent act/omission by another person, this is considered a nervous shock. Often this is a psychiatric disorder triggered by witnessing a severe and traumatic accident.

Nervous Shock: What is It?

While we all hope these accidents do not happen to us, what happens when you witness an accident resulting in long term mental and emotional damage?

In these situations, a claim of nervous shock can be found. A claim of nervous shock is a personal injury claim which must be brought by a person who witnessed the scene of a traumatic event. This event could be a fatality, injury or the person being put in peril. However, if it is a close member of the family who is killed, injured or put in peril the need for witnessing the event is not necessary.

A close member of the family is defined in the NSW’s Civil Liability Act 2002 as:

  1. parent or guardian; or
  2. spouse or partner; or
  3. child or stepchild; or
  4. sibling (incl. half and step siblings).

However, even if the above criteria are proven, the mental harm caused must be considered a recognised psychiatric illness. The recognised psychiatric illness must be a result of witnessing the scene or being a close family member to the person killed, injured or put in peril. There is a three-year limitation period to claim for nervous shock.

Common Law Tests

The common law provides three clear elements to prove a nervous shock claim:

  1. That a duty of care is owed by the defendant to the plaintiff; and
  2. That it was reasonably foreseeable that the plaintiff could suffer psychiatric injury due to the defendant’s act or omission; and
  3. That it was the defendant’s negligent act or omission which caused the plaintiff to suffer this injury.

What Can You Claim?

You may be able to claim:

  • Past expenses
  • Future expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Future economic loss
  • Non-economic loss

Though keep in mind, the amount of damages weighs on the severity of the injury.

Nervous shock can leave a lasting psychological and emotional impact on your day-to-day life. We understand the importance of receiving support. Here at Coutts we have an experienced team in personal injury matters and will assist you through the process of a claim.


Karena Nicholls

Karena is a Partner at Coutts and is the Head of our Injury Compensation (with extensive knowledge in personal injury) and Employment Law teams. She is passionate and dedicated to helping her clients understand their rights and obligations and advising them on the best course of action to achieve their desired outcomes. It is her practical and client-orientated approach that has attributed to her authentic reputation positioning her as a highly regarded compensation and employment lawyer.

For further information please don’t hesitate to contact:

Karena Nicholls
1300 268 887


This blog is merely general and non-specific information on the subject matter and is not and should not be considered or relied on as legal advice. Coutts is not responsible for any cost, expense, loss or liability whatsoever in relation to this blog, including all or any reliance on this blog or use or application of this blog by you.

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