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The Impact of Serious Injuries on Loved Ones

By Principal Lawyer, Occupiers and Public Liability

There are tragedies around the world every day. Because news reporting is as it now is, we hear about them quickly and with graphic details of the full impact of the tragedy as it unfolds. Unfortunately man made disasters which I anticipate is likely to be the case with the terrible recent train crash in Russia, are all too common.

Having assisted in some small way to pick up the pieces on numerous occasions where accidents have occurred, it has generally struck me that where people have been seriously injured and sometimes killed, it is the loved ones and relations who also bear the brunt of the tragedy.

I have often been asked whether those loved ones are being able to claim themselves. On the face of it they should be. They either saw their loved one seriously injured or were told about the accident and had to attend later at hospital to identify someone they were close to. All of this occurred through no fault of their own. As a result and in some cases, they suffered serious psychiatric injury.

Unfortunately the law is less forgiving.

The tragedy involving those supporters who were killed at Hillsborough is again in the news but now for different reasons. In many cases relations heard about the terrible incident on the radio as it was unfolding or saw the incident on the television, as I did, and will have vivid memories of the aftermath and those injured being treated on the football turf.

Unfortunately those loved ones who suffered psychiatric injuries as a result cannot always bring a claim.

There are legal tests that came out of the Hillsborough tragedy and which were laid down by the Courts. I have blogged on this point before. In addition to establishing a close tie of love and affection with the injured person or the person killed which is invariably the case, the relative who has suffered a psychiatric injury must have either witnesses the tragedy as it was unfolding or come across the tragedy soon after the incident. 

In addition and most importantly, they must have been able to witness the tragedy in person rather than having seen it unfold on television or heard about it via the radio.

The recent Malaysian air tragedy is a prime example. Countless relations were understandably waiting at the airport for news. What subsequently filtered out is that the plane is likely to have crashed. There was no indication of any survivors. Given the tests above, those relations will not be entitled to bring a claim.

I write this blog therefore in having had significant experience in dealing with the aftermath of accidents but more so, to advise those who read this blog that in any case involving the death or serious injury of a loved one, it is far from unusual for those who have been left behind, to suffer a psychiatric injury which in turn could impact considerably upon their lives and work.

Each and every claim involving people who have been seriously injured or killed, should therefore involve some thought for those who have to pick up the pieces and who are left behind. They are called secondary victims. A rather unusual term which gives credence to the fact that they are victims in the tragedy and accident and although such claims are not easy and not always guaranteed to succeed, it would be wrong to ignore the impact that serious accidents can have upon people’s lives, other than the person who has been injured.

Tristan Hallam is a Personal Injury Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.

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