Reilly v Merseyside Regional Health Authority

Reilly v Merseyside Regional Health Authority

(1995) 6 Med LR 246


The claimants got stuck in an overcrowded hospital lift for an hour due to the defendant's negligence, which caused them to suffer anxiety and distress. The court rejected the claim because mere emotional distress without lasting psychological damage is not actionable in negligence.


The claimants, Mr & Mrs Reilly, visited the defendant's maternity hospital to see their newborn grandson. Due to the defendant's negligence, they became trapped in an overcrowded lift for one hour and 20 minutes. Mrs Riley was 68 and had a pre-existing condition of claustrophobia. In the lift, both suffered claustrophobia symptoms: they became hot and sweaty, had difficulty breathing and felt dizziness. They both had trouble sleeping and suffered nightmares for a few days after the incident. The couple sued the hospital in negligence and won their case at first instance.

The Health Authority appealed on the grounds that only those suffering a recognisable illness are allowed to recover in negligence. Since the couple only suffered claustrophobia and fear, and these are normal emotions instead of injuries, they were not allowed to recover damages.


The Court of Appeal sided with the Merseyside Regional Health Authority and held that mere emotional distress without giving rise to a recognised psychiatric condition is not actionable in negligence. Physical symptoms of fear and panic such as sweating and breathing difficulties were not enough to claim in negligence.

Lord Justice Mann had this to say:

There must be an identifiable psychiatric condition. The sound policy of the law is that the excitement of a normal human emotion, together with its normal physical consequence, is not compensatable. Here there was no recognisable psychiatric injury, but only normal emotion in the face of a most unpleasant experience.