• The case of Bourhill v Young [1943] Ac 92, questioned, on appeal to the House of Lords, whether the Defendant (D) owed a duty of care to the claimant (C).
  • More specifically, is a duty of care, and all its requirements (foreseeability, proximity, and whether it would be fair just, and reasonable to impose the duty), present and applicable where psychiatric harm is said to have been caused to the claimant resulting in the birth of a stillborn baby.

Facts of the Case

  • The defendant, Mr. Young, crashes his motorcycle whilst riding negligently, causing a collision between himself and another vehicle. Resulting in fatal injuries being dealt to the defendant.
  • When the crash occurred, the claimant, Mrs. Bourhill, 8 months pregnant at the time, was getting off a tramcar between 45 to 50 feet away, she subsequently heard the crash and witnessed the immediate aftermath of the events.
  • Following this, Mrs. Bourhill gave birth to a stillborn baby.
  • Under the belief that the events of the previous day were the cause of this, Mrs. Bourhill brought an action against the estate of Mr. Young claiming that because of his negligent actions.
  • Mrs. Bourhill claimed that hearing the violent collision and seeing the scene, she wrenched and injured her back, and suffered stress and severe shock to her nervous system.
  • As a result of these injuries, Mr. Young whom she believed was responsible, was at fault for her delivering a stillborn baby 5 weeks later due to his negligence.

Issues in Bourhill v Young [1943] Ac 92

  • The issues in question as to whether to impose this duty, primarily concern 2 of the elements associated with a duty of care, proximity, and foreseeability.
  • Additionally, if Mr. Young was said to be liable for Mrs. Bourhill’s results the court would essentially be saying, the claimant was sufficiently proximate to the incident and;
  • The defendant should have reasonably foreseen that, driving negligently, he might cause psychiatric damage to a person hearing the crash from C’s position.

Held by (the House of Lords)

  • The decision read that Mr. Young’s estate would not be held liable for any psychiatric harm that may have been incurred to the claimant, Mrs. Bourhill, as a result of his negligent actions.
  • D not liable.

Lord Thankerton, Lord Russel, and Lord Macmillan

  • The judgment decreed by Lord Thankerton, Lord Russel, and Lord Macmillan relied on the fact that Mrs. Bourhill stood between 45 to 50 feet away and was outside the proximate zone of ‘ordinary physical impact’.
  • Thus, Mr. Young owed no duty of care to Mrs. Bourhill because reasonably, he could not have foreseen that she would be affected by his negligent actions.
  • Lord Thankerton’s (At P.99): ‘The risk of the bicycle ricocheting and hitting the appellant, or of flying glass hitting her, in her position at the time, was so remote, in my opinion, that the cyclist could not reasonably be held bound to have contemplated it…’
  • Additionally, Lord Macmillan believed the cyclist should have foreseen that at the speed he was going he was risking the chance of a collision with another vehicle, but Mrs. Bourhill (Lord MacMillan (At P.105)) ‘was not so placed that there was any reasonable likelihood of her being affected by the cyclists careless driving.’