Trainee Nurse Suffers from Eggshell Psychology

On 24 July 2014, The Daily Telegraph and The Daily Mail reported that a trainee nurse had been awarded £75,000 in compensation after a prick on her finger at work led to her developing a severe obsessive compulsive disorder.  Her condition led to her losing her job, and she was unable to have an intimate relationship with her husband. 

The woman was accidentally pricked with a dirty needle that was protruding from an overfull bin whilst working at a hospital.  Although she was given the all-clear after having blood tests for hepatitis and HIV infection, she suffered increasing anxiety that she may have been infected with HIV.  She became obsessed with cleanliness and compulsive cleaning, and her marriage subsequently broke down.  She was also dismissed from her job because of the very severe nature of her condition.  The court awarded her £20,000 for pain, suffering and loss of amenity, and £55,000 for her past loss of earnings for five years. 

Although primary liability was admitted by the NHS Trust, the Trust disputed the extent of the psychological problems suffered by the woman as a direct result of the accident and the amount of compensation to which she was entitled. 

The judge said, “The average person, armed with normal fortitude would have been able to get on with his or her life, no doubt making a firm mental note to be more careful of the sharps bin.

“Unfortunately, Mrs Tobbal was unable to get on in this way.  She suffered from what can only be described as an eggshell psychology.”

The “eggshell psychology” referred to by the judge in this case relates to the well-established legal principle that you must take your victim as you find them.  In other words, if the victim of a blameworthy accident sustains an unusual or unexpected physical or mental injury as a direct result of that accident, they can still be compensated for those injuries. Not everyone reacts to an injury in the same way and the law recognises that.  Psychiatric injuries are compensatable as much as physical injuries, but psychiatric injuries are by their nature often more difficult to prove, and often attract less sympathy from the public.