Martha Young v Arthur McVean
The Court of Session's has just given decision in an appeal in a case where a Mrs Young was claiming damages for her son's death. The judges hearing the appeal partially overturned the sum awarded in a case where a mother was awarded £80,000 for grief and loss of relationship when her son was killed by a motorist on the way to meeting his mother at the local gym. Mrs Young was also awarded an additional £40,000 for injuries beyond ordinary grief and shock for being traumatized and psychologically injured by the accident even though not directly involved: a so-called "secondary victim".
To qualify as a secondary victim the claimant must not only have had a loving relationship, normally as a close relative but be close in space and time to the event. This issue became increasingly focussed as a result of several multiple fatality events such as at Hillsborough football stadium (1989). At Hillsborough relatives witnessing football fans being injured on television were not considered sufficiently close but those present at the ground were.
Closeness of events
Mrs Young drove past the accident scene and on arrival at the gym found her son absent. She found she had missed calls on her phone and began to panic that the pedestrian in the accident was her son. She heard a young man had been knocked down. Then the police arrived to see her, confirming her worst fears.
The judge who heard the case considered the unfolding of these tragic events to be sufficiently close in space and time to qualify the claimant as a secondary victim but the judges dealing with the appeal disagreed. They took into account that she was not aware that it was her son at the time she passed the crash scene and thus was not sufficiently close even though she suffered a deep psychological injury as a result of the events. This decision may disappoint many claimants who feel the law in this area is driven by policy rather then principle. Mrs Young's trauma was real and directly caused by her son's death as a result of a speeding motorist yet she has no remedy. The appeal court did not, however reverse the separate £80,000 award for grief and loss of her son's relationship.