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Updated: May 17, 2023



What is “proximity”? Is this a question often not particularly challenging for you to answer? Something is said to be nearby if it may be described as proximal. But what about applying this idea in the context of tort law and those who sue for damages because they were injured as a consequence of something they saw rather than something that occurred to them personally?


This is unquestionably a more difficult situation. It is also a pretty excellent illustration of why using a regular dictionary to check up the definition of a word used in the title of an article is not always going to be all that useful.

To tell you the truth, the law surrounding secondary victim party claims is becoming quite difficult, and it is perhaps a good thing that a few cases are heading to the Court of Appeal — presumably to be heard simultaneously.

It seems quite plausible that the Court of Appeals could merely be a handy stopping off place for the Supreme Court; perhaps, we will get some clarification form the courts in the future. But where do we stand right now?

Until this time, the consensus among us was that for a claim to be valid, the plaintiff needed to have been present at the crime scene and in the location where it occurred. The claimant expected that they had to have observed either the occurrence itself or its immediate aftermath.

Galli-Atkinson v Seghal [2003] Case number EWCA Civ 697 is an example of tort law that deals with the concepts of negligence and duty of care. In this case, a woman established proximity when she came upon the scene of a car accident in which her daughter had been fatally injured and then saw her daughter's body in the mortuary within two hours of coming upon the accident scene. Her daughter had been killed in the accident. The case of Taylor v. A Novo (UK) Ltd. [2013] EWCA Civ 194 is  another case involving negligence and duty of care. In the case of Taylor the claimant's chances of winning were significantly reduced when she saw her mother pass away three weeks after the accident.

Do you feel that this is a little bit unfair? It would seem that the judicial system is equally uneasy about the situation. Paul v. Royal Wolverhampton in the year 2020 and Polmear v. Royal Cornwall in the year 2021 are the cases that the Court will hear of Appeal.

In the case of Paul, two sisters were able to heal after having observed their father suffer a deadly heart attack due to a hospital's inability to recognise his heart ailment a year earlier. At what cost was there proximity? A situation quite similar to the one described above existed in Palmer, where a set of parents were forced to watch the tragic collapse of their daughter under similar circumstances, in which the nearby hospital had carelessly failed to detect her disease.


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