Why Dulieu v White and sons is important
Dulieu v White and sons established that a claimant may recover damages in the tort of negligence for psychiatric harm. In Dulieu, the claimant was awarded damages based on a shock induced by her reasonable fear of personal injury.
The claimant, a pregnant lady, was working at a bar, when a horse and cart was negligently driven into the public-house by the defendant stopping just short of her. This incident sent her into a severe state of shock and triggered the premature birth of her child.
Dulieu brought a claim in the tort of negligence against White and sons. Inter alia, they sought damages for the shock which was caused by the incident. The defendant argued that the tort of negligence requires physical injury, and nevertheless the injury was too remote.
The Court held that Dulieu could recover damages from White and sons for her state of shock.
Kennedy J rejected White and sons defence, concluding that damages for the claimant’s shock were recoverable. In doing so, he held that a claimant could recover damages for shock where it, “arises from a reasonable fear of immediate personal injury to oneself.”
In obiter, Kennedy J suggested this rule might also cover cases where the shock is produced, “by horror or vexation arising from the sight of mischief being threatened or done either to some other person, or to her own or her husband’s property”.