In this paper, we examine the development of the English courts’ approach to negligently-inflicted psychiatric injury claims from an historical perspective, first tracing the development of the English court’s approach to psychiatric injury claims. We then offer an overview of how mental injury has been understood over the past two centuries, and the notion of the hysterical woman within this framework. We posit the idea that the current law can be best understood as a sympathetic reaction to the notion of the ‘hysterical woman’. We argue that this approach can both explain the early resistance to recognising such claims, but also the enthusiasm for compensation in others. We further argue that the rather confused and conflicting approaches in English law can be understood as a result of the lack of a clearly developed normative basis for compensation. This failure, we suggest, has arisen as a result of the reactive nature of the way in which the law has developed, which has undermined the courts’ development of a more ethically coherent and reasoned approach. We argue that an understanding of the background to the current law can aid in improving the coherency of this area of law in the future.
Speakers: Dr Imogen Goold, University of Oxford and Dr Catherine Kelly, University of Bristol
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