Sheriff Appeal Court holds woman who witnessed Glasgow bin lorry crash not entitled to damages for psychological harm



Sheriff Principal Mhairi Stephen QC
Sheriff Principal Mhairi Stephen QC

A woman who witnessed the 2014 Glasgow bin lorry crash has failed to appeal a decision of the All-Scotland Sheriff Personal Injury Court that she was not entitled to damages for psychological and psychiatric problems arising from the incident.

Danielle Weddle raised the claim against Glasgow City Council after a car pushed by the lorry ended up around 12 metres away from her. She claimed that she had reasonable cause to fear physical injury to herself at the time of the accident.

The appeal was heard by Sheriff Principal Mhairi Stephen QC and Appeal Sheriffs Sean Murphy QC and Norman McFadyen.

Erroneous test

On the day of the accident, the appellant, then a student at Stirling University, had arrived back in Glasgow after a visit to Edinburgh. Following her arrival at Queen Street Station she intended to walk to Jamaica Street to catch a bus, with part of her route being along the west side of George Square and Queen Street. From a pedestrian crossing on the north side of the junction with West George Street, she observed the last part of the accident.

The appellant saw the bin lorry and a Skoda taxi collide with the Millennium Hotel on the north side of George Square. The final position of the taxi, the closer of the two vehicles to the appellant, was 12 metres to her left and east. Neither of the vehicles travelled straight towards her at any point before coming to a halt.

Following phone calls with her parents, the appellant got her bus and visited a pharmacy in Cardonald. The pharmacy assistant arranged for her to see a local doctor, who gave her diazepam. She later returned to her family home in France, and on her return to Scotland she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. During her counselling she did not mention being in fear of her safety at the time of the accident.

The first time that the appellant mentioned being in fear of her safety was in January 2019, a month before the proof, when she saw a clinical psychologist in Manchester, where she had moved to after feeling unable to attend university in Scotland. Based on her evidence, as well as police evidence relating to the accident, the sheriff concluded she was not a primary victim of the accident and therefore the respondent was not required to compensate her.

It was submitted for the appellant that the sheriff had failed to consider the full impact of the evidence and had applied an erroneous and far too high a test to the question of reasonable belief. The appellant had believed herself to be in danger from the perspective she witnessed the accident, and this should have been sufficient to establish her case.

The respondents argued that the appellant had failed to meet the test to allow an appellate court to interfere with the sheriff’s findings in fact. No error of law had been raised, and the sheriff’s findings were supported by the CCTV evidence and plans drawn by the police.

Compelling real evidence

The opinion of the court was delivered by Appeal Sheriff McFadyen. Evaluating the facts of the accident as established, he noted: “The appellant argued that the sheriff had not given sufficient weight to or had misinterpreted the evidence of the appellant. Much of this submission was directed to her evidence that she thought at the time that the vehicles were heading towards her out of control.”

He continued: “That evidence is rehearsed in great detail, and the sheriff has acknowledged that that was her clear position in evidence; but it is at odds with the real evidence, including the evidence of the direction of the comparatively slowly travelling vehicles and the evidence of the appellant’s reactions and behaviour as we have just described. While terrible things had happened in Queen Street and the west side of George Square - and she came to see the aftermath of these things - the appellant did not witness them happening.”

Considering the sheriff’s handling of the evidence, he said: “Given the compelling real evidence we cannot see how the sheriff could have come to any other conclusion and we do consider there is some weight in the respondent’s submission that a decision to the contrary would, in this case, have been one which no reasonable sheriff could have reached.”

On the sheriff’s general reasoning for his decision, Appeal Sheriff McFadyen said: “The sheriff has carefully and at some length explained, under reference to authority why he concluded that she did not have [a reasonable fear of injury]. Among other factors justifying his decision he has correctly noted that neither vehicle was ever heading straight towards her, the vehicles did not come particularly close to her, the initial collision took place over 30m at least away from her and the vehicles thereafter were moving relatively slowly and came to rest at least 12m away from her.”

He concluded: “We have no doubt that the appellant has suffered significant psychological and psychiatric injury in consequence of the terrible things she saw that day, but we cannot conclude that the sheriff was in error in finding that such injury was not in any way referable to a fear of personal injury to her reasonably held by her at the time of the accident.”

For these reasons, the appeal was refused, and the court adhered to the original interlocutor of April 2019.

© Scottish Legal News Ltd 2021



Other judgments by Sheriff Principal Mhairi Stephen QC