Victorian Railways Commissioners v Coultas: The Untold Story

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The story of liability for ‘nervous shock’ begins with the Privy Council decision in Victorian Railways Commissioners v Coultas in 1888 holding that such damage was too remote—a decision soon rejected by courts in England and elsewhere (though it had considerable influence in the United States). Over the next hundred years, courts gradually extended the boundaries of liability for what is now called psychiatric injury or mental harm. But the law reports tell us nothing about James and Mary Coultas, apart from what happened to them on one particular day. Moreover, the assertion in the initial report that Mary suffered a miscarriage is actually misleading, colouring judicial attitudes to nervous shock over a long period. Who were James and Mary Coultas, and why did they bring the action? What were the consequences of losing the case, and what happened to them after that? This article looks beyond the law reports to other sources in order to answer these questions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)416-442
Number of pages27
JournalAmerican Journal of Legal History
Issue number4
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Dec 2021


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