If a person witnesses a serious injury or death due to an accident or incident, or heard about a loved one’s serious injury in a serious accident or incident, it can have serious impacts on the person’s mental wellbeing.  

What is Nervous Shock? 

When a person witnesses a serious accident, whether it falls into the realm of a car accident, work accident, stressful medical negligence scenario or recreational activities, it can be highly distressing. If it is a close family member who is injured, witnessing them be injured or even the aftermath can result in a person’s own mental health deteriorating. These circumstances can result in a negative impact on a person’s life, from an inability to return to work, to struggles engaging in usual day-to-day practices. In these situations, a claim for ‘nervous shock’ may arise.

Types of Nervous Shock Circumstances

Examples of circumstances in which nervous shock can arise are as follows: 

  • Witnessing the accident or incident;  
  • Arriving at the scene of the accident or incident; and 
  • Learning or Hearing about the accident or incident afterwards.  

For example, if a person was travelling in a motor vehicle behind a family member or loved one and witnessed them be injured at the fault of another driver, this would be an accepted nervous shock circumstance. In Queensland, the legislation does not mandate that a person must view the scene, however, a claim is largely dependent on the person’s proximity to the accident and to its aftermath.  This includes the closeness of the relationship the person holds with the victim. 

Another element the legislation requires is whether the harm the person has sustained transcends the common feelings of grief, sadness and emotional distress. Liability in negligence requires that the harmed person suffers a recognised psychiatric illness.  Such an illness can include depression, anxiety, an adjustment disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The person’s psychiatric illness does not have to be connected with their own physical harm in the accident or incident (if any). To be successful in a claim for nervous shock, a person must demonstrate that the defendant (being the person responsible for the victim’s accident or incident) breached a known duty of care owed to the person and, as a result of that breach, the person suffered requisite personal injury, loss and damage. A connection between the person’s psychiatric injury and the negligent act is required. 

Compensation for Nervous Shock Claims

A person may be entitled to recover damages (compensation) for: 

  • Pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life;   
  • Past and future economic loss;   
  • Past and future loss of superannuation benefits; and   
  • Past and future medical and rehabilitation expenses.   


Each nervous shock claim is assessed on its own merits, circumstances and the unique relationship the person has with the victim.  

A claim for nervous shock can be a difficult benchmark to establish. There are strict time limits that apply to nervous shock claims; therefore, it is crucial to take prompt action and contact Littles Lawyers as soon as possible. If a claim is commenced after the expiry of these strict time limits, a person may no longer have the legal right to pursue the claim.   

Emily Wright and our team are specialist personal injury lawyers who can assist you with your claim on a ‘No Win No Fee’ basis. If you would like advice in relation to a personal injury claim, including a medical negligence claim, please reach out to Emily Wright and Littles Lawyers today. 

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