Nervous shock is a shock to the nerve and brain structure of the body. If a person has got injury through his sense i.e., by his visual it comes under the category of nervous shock. Shock means more than just fright and must result in a pathological condition to which a Doctor can attest. The brain of human regulates all the functions of the body. From brain’s hind part that is medulla oblongata, spinal chord arises from which nerves originate and go to various parts of the body. If a man has seen something which he is not able to believe, horrible or supposed to cause imminent danger to him or to his close ones then he may suffer with nervous shock.

The nervous shock may be caused either by acts or words causing fright. Nervous shock is to be differentiated from mental shock or shock to moral or intellectual sense.  No action lies for mere mental pain or sorrow, or any other injury to feeling or emotions. Mental pain or anxiety the law cannot value, and does not pretend to redress.

The law of nervous shock has developed through case laws which date from as far back as 1861.The law of nervous shock has been evolved over the decades by the courts, wherein they moved from entertaining claims only limited to sudden shock to taking a wider and more flexible approach in dealing with the claims of an individual taking into account several eventualities. Initially the courts were reluctant as well as slow in recognising the claims for psychiatric illness, for it was felt that it would attract dubious and false claims under the garb of psychiatric illness as it would prove very difficult to outline and define the precise parameters of liability under this field.[1]

The development of law relating to nervous shock is of recent origin. At one point of time it was thought that there was no liability for nervous shock even if it resulted physical injury or disturbance.

In 1888, the Privy Council in Victorian Railway Commission v. Caultas [(1888) 13 App cas222][2] refused to recognise liability for injury caused by a nervous shock through eye or ear without having physical contact. But this view is no more regarded as correct. It has been settled in a group of later case that action lies for nervous shock though unaccompanied by any actual physical impact, provided it has resulted in physical injury.

The nervous shock is different from bodily harm as follows

  1. Nervous shock is caused by words, gestures and scenery but bodily injury is caused by stick, bullet, hit by vehicle etc.
  2. In nervous shock, injury is inflicted indirectly to the brain whereas injury is inflicted directly to the body in the bodily harm.
  3. Nervous shock and its effect generally come under tort while causing bodily harm comes under Criminal Law.
  4. Theory of nervous shock is of new origin and its remedies are recognised only from nineteenth century, but bodily harm and its remedies were recognised long back that is some centuries ago.

Recovery of Damages for Nervous Shock

  1. The plaintiff must be in the area of physical impact.
  2. The plaintiff must be so placed where injury through nervous shock can be foreseen
  3. Act of negligence may also cause nervous shock
  4. The shock could be caused by seeing or hearing something

Winfield, the jurisprudent opined that there is no difficulty in proving mental shock in this modern and scientific era. Actual nervous shock is as much a physical injury as a broken bone or a torn flesh wound. He is also of opinion that by the aid of scientific instruments and methods, the affects of the nervous shock can be proved in the court. Therefore, a nervous shock is an actionable claim for the damages in torts.


[2]  Victorian Railway Commission v. Caultas [(1888) 13 App cas222]

Book- Dr. S.R. Myneni, Law of torts and consumer protection. 1st Edition.

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