This article is written by Anaya Jain, from NMIMS school of law, Bangalore. This is an exhaustive article which discusses psychiatric damages and its regulation in India.


Oxford Law Dictionary characterizes psychiatric injury which is also termed as a nervous shock as “A perceived mental issue brought about by sudden shock” when we take a look at it as to tortious cases, a mental injury may emerge, as an aftereffect of another’s carelessness or might be an impact of a traumatic accident.

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What comes under psychiatric damages?

Psychiatric damages as per medical conditions characterize as, circulatory failure marked by an unexpected fall of pulse and bringing about whiteness, sweating, quick (however feeble) beat, here and there breakdown.

For this condition to happen significant causes are illness, injury, and mental trauma. In shock, the circulatory strain falls below what is needed to supply the tissues of the body, particularly to the mind. Treatment relies upon the cause. Rest is required, and, on account of extreme blood loss, the rebuilding of the ordinary circulation is needed.

Conditions to claim compensation under psychiatric damages

There are a couple of conditions which are required to be fulfilled as per the law commission report in order to claim compensation under psychiatric damages –

A recognizable psychiatric illness 

As per Lord Bridge – It is first imperative to build up that the individual isn’t experiencing despondency, or normal emotional stress but a healthy psychiatric disorder. According to any “recognizable psychiatric disease” morbid depression, personal hysterical disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, pathological stress disorder, and chronic fatigue syndrome would be included. There ought to be expert clinical observers or reports by clinical specialists demonstrating the above facts. The law is not bound to give compensation for mere anxiety, emotional outbreak etc.

Test of reasonable foreseeability

The law commission considered that it was necessary to test the psychiatric damage beyond the simple foreseeability test and use reasonable foreseeability. This was first used in Dulieu v White & Sons case.

In this case, the pregnant spouse of A.R. Delieu was sitting behind the bar of her husband’s public house when the respondents’ worker carelessly drove a horse-driven van in order to direct it in the open house and because of which offended party endured an anxious shock that caused her an ailment and therefore resulted in the premature birth of a blockhead child and for this offended party claims compensation. It was chosen by the court that the offended party ought to have the option to recover only when the risk is sensible enough to be apprehensive or get a mental shock and here in this situation the offended party was caught dread for his well being so it was noteworthy and ought to be allowed remuneration.

Two points which ought to be observed from this case are –

  1. First, in applying the reasonable foreseeability test the respondent must assume that the offended party is a reasonable lady who has a normal standard of foreseeability. At that point when the offended party has set up her judicious nature and that it would be typical for a sensible lady to endure the apprehensive shock she endured in the specific case, she is qualified to recover full remuneration.
  2. Second, predictability of psychiatric illness is viewed as ex post facto in the light of all that has occurred. Except if knowing the past is utilized: The inquiry stops to be whether it is predictable that a sensibly vigorous individual would have endured mental ailment because of what really occurred and becomes rather whether it is predictable that such an individual would have endured mental disease because of what may have occurred however didn’t in certainty do as such. 

Indian approach on the cases related to psychiatric damages


The Indian government deals with psychiatric illness by the Mental Healthcare Act of 2017 which revoked the previous act of 1987. Earlier Indian courts were very liberal in psychological injury cases, but this attitude got changed when Madras High Court ruled the case of Halligua v Mohansundarum and held that the body was regulated by the nervous system and even if there was no physical harm done to the party, the nervous could be harmed and compensated.

The idea of courts to some degree expanded much more in another case called Lucknow       Development Authority v M.K. Gupta. In this case, damages were given to the offended party on the grounds that the offended party gets the nervous shock subsequent to getting harassed by the government official. This decision was likewise followed as a rule in Ghaziabad Development Authority v Balbir Singh.

There are several cases in which it is difficult to decide who is entitled to seek compensation and who is not. So to clear up this uncertainty court took a step forward and bifurcated the class of victims into two categories i.e. Primary and Secondary victims in the case of Alcock v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police.

Primary victims 

Primary victims are involved in the incident directly, and also have both physical and psychological injuries. In addition to those directly involved in the case, the House of Lords judgments Alcock and White set out two more examples of primary victims. Such examples include rescuers who came to the assistance of others, if they were in danger, or reasonably assumed to be and plaintiffs who unintentionally caused a third party’s death or injury due to negligence on the part of the defendant or reasonably believed that they had done so (known as reluctant participants). To determine responsibility, a primary victim must show that this was sensibly predictable that an individual would endure a physical or mental injury because of the defendant’s careless demonstration.

Secondary victims 

Secondary victims are normally witnesses of the primary victim’s injuries. A secondary victim must show that a person of normal strength will sustain a psychological injury as a result of witnessing the primary victim’s injury which was fairly foreseeable. The court must determine whether the claimant’s relationship with the primary victim is fairly close and whether they had adequate proximity to the accident. Moreover, as a result of a sudden appreciation of a horrifying event, the secondary victim must show that the psychiatric illness was induced by shock.

Sometimes the psychiatric injury may arise in cases where the complainant and the defendant have a pre-existing legal relationship where the essence of that relationship is such that it imposes an obligation on the defendant to take good care and not to cause psychiatric injury. Such circumstances include occupational stress cases and cases of health authorities where liability can occur for communication of distressing news.

To effectively build up liability in an occupational stress claim, the petitioner must show that: 

  •  The employer neglected to give a protected work environment. 
  • The occupational stress that the worker was exposed to was adequate to make a sensibly predictable danger of injury. 
  • The employer neglected to do all that they sensibly could to keep the occupation related worry from emerging. 
  • The employer endured a sickness as an immediate aftereffect of their occupational pressure.


Compensations under psychiatric liability can be awarded in the following scenario –

  1. The offended party must experience the ill effects of a psychiatric injury or mental disease. Damages are not granted for insignificant sorrow or trouble except for damages to bereavement for spouses and parents of children under the age of eighteen. 
  2. The offended party’s psychiatric injury must be prompted by shock either undermining their own wellbeing or included seeing exceptionally upsetting wounds of other people. It can also be termed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
  3. The plaintiffs ought to be bifurcated into primary and secondary victims but the rules for their distinction is still not very clear.
  4. Generally, the offended party’s mental disease must be a sensibly predictable result of the wrongdoer’s act, however, the primary victim may claim damages for an unforeseeable mental ailment as long as a type of individual injury (physical or mental) was sensibly predictable. This rule was set down in Page vs Smith (1996) AC 155.

Circumstances of each case and the after-effects of injuries on every patient will determine the amount of compensation to be awarded. Patients are eligible to claim compensation in the following injuries –

  1. Pain, suffering and loss of comfort endured because of the injury; 
  2. the expenses of treatments, for example, guiding, psychological conduct treatment; 
  3. the expenses of medicine or personal health care. 
  4. the expenses of treatment, later on, to take into account times of conceivable backslide; 
  5. the expenses of travel to and from GP or medical clinic arrangements;  
  6. other money-related loss brought about by the physical and mental injury.

Lacunae in the current law 

The Mental Healthcare Act,2017 has the following limitations –

  1. The Act perceives psychiatric injury as a clinical issue which must be treated by medications and clinical systems. The significant issue of avoidance and advancement of mental well-being has been ignored.
  2. The present meaning of ‘mental health professional’ is limited to clinical therapists and experts holding a postgraduate qualification in Ayurveda, homeopathy, Siddha and Unani—all on the clinical side. Despite the fact that including specialists from non-allopathic fields of medication is praiseworthy, it is indistinct why psychotherapists and psychoanalysts were avoided.
  3. The Act proposes an ‘advance clinical directive’ through which people can direct how they “wish to be” and “wish not to be treated with” and can select a member who can settle on choices on their behalf should they lose their psychological limit. However, the act failed to give a clear methodology for setting it up.
  4. The Act neglects to accommodate the complete list of available treatment choices so that the patient can make a decision without asymmetry of the details.
  5. The Act provides for the establishment of a Committee of Experts for periodic review and successful enforcement of the Act. Neither the Act nor the Rules define the committee’s constitution, procedure and terms of reference. Such a significant body ought to be transparent and subject to open investigation.


The enactment will only be effective if there are discussions and resolution of the above-mentioned gaps. Implementation tardive will cause more harm than good. It is wise for the legislature to take into account land culture, new research advances in the field of mental health, evaluate patients’ and families’ unmet needs, and make arrangements to bridge the gap in treatment. There is also a need to make provisions to improve the resources and skill-building among professionals/workers in the field of mental health, to ensure comprehensiveness in health care services, promoting mental health and well-being, and providing adequate financial / budget support (for plan and non-plan expenditures). The need for the hour is a law that can be applied in effect and that can meet health concerns at all rates of prevention (primary, secondary and tertiary) while maintaining the family’s rights, professional rights and rights of other users. There is an earnest need to change the current law to convert it from an optimistic law into the law of activity.

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