In two judgements dated 25 March 2022, the Mixed Chamber of the French Cour de Cassation (Supreme Court) recognised the standalone nature of the heads of claim for harm due to anxiety of imminent death, and that of worry and expectation.
The head of claim of ‘anxiety of imminent death’ relates to the anxiety felt by the direct victim of an accident who, in the period of time between suffering the injury and the occurrence of death, was aware of the inevitability of his or her own end. The victim’s beneficiaries are able to obtain compensation for this harm on behalf of the direct victim.
The head of claim of ‘worry and expectation’ relates to the anxiety suffered by the relatives of a direct victim who learn that he or she is or has been in danger. Their suffering arises from the state of expectation and uncertainty in which they find themselves, between the moment they learn that their loved one is in danger and the moment they learn of the outcome for that person.
Head of claim for harm due to anxiety of imminent death
- Debate as to the standalone nature of this head of claim inherited by beneficiaries
For a long period, the different chambers of the French Cour de Cassation held opposing views as to whether the head of claim for harm due to anxiety of imminent death should be included under suffering endured, recognised under the Dintilhac nomenclature, or should be compensated as a standalone head of claim:
- The Criminal Chamber accepted the possibility of assessing harm due to anxiety of imminent death, as distinct from the heading of suffering endured (Crim. 23 Oct. 2012, No. 11-83.770; Crim. 15 Oct. 2013, No. 12-83.055).
- On the contrary, the Second Civil Chamber considered that ‘psychological harm corresponding to mental suffering and associated disorders falls under the head of claim for temporary harm due to suffering endured, regardless of the origin of this suffering’ (Civ. 2e, 20 Oct. 2016, No. 14-28.866).
This chamber also reiterated that the same harm should not be compensated multiple times, duplicate compensation being contrary to the principle of compensation in full for bodily injury (Civ. 2e, 2 Feb. 2017, No. 16-11.411; Civ. 2, 14 Sept. 2017, No. 16-22.013).
- The First Civil Chamber ruled that since psychological harm corresponding to mental suffering and associated disorders fell under the head of claim for temporary harm due to suffering endured, regardless of the origin of this suffering, harm due to anxiety of imminent death experienced by the victim could justify separate compensation only if it were excluded from this head of claim (Civ. 1re, 26 Sept. 2019, No. 18-20.924).
Head of claim for harm due to anxiety of imminent death – Judgment of the Mixed Chamber of the French Cour de Cassation of 25 March 2022 (n°20-15.624)
The Mixed Chamber of the French Cour de Cassation (composed of the First and Second Civil Chambers and the Criminal Chamber) has now stated that harm due to anxiety of imminent death is a specific and standalone head of claim which can be compensated in addition to, and separately from, the head of claim for suffering endured.
In that specific case, an individual was the victim of several stab wounds, and died after being taken to hospital. His beneficiaries applied to the French Commission for Compensation of Victims of Crime (CIVI) to obtain compensation for personal and inherited harm.
The Mixed Chamber of the French Cour de Cassation ruled that:
“The nature and extent of the injuries suffered by the victim, aged only twenty-seven, in relation to his survival time, whose state of consciousness led his family to consider it possible to transport him to hospital in a light car, show that [R] [X] suffered specific harm linked to his awareness of his imminent death, due to the progressive and inescapable deterioration of his vital functions caused by massive internal and external haemorrhage, and that the judge of first instance made a fair assessment of this.
It was therefore without compensating the same harm twice over that the Court of Appeal, which is obliged to ensure compensation in full of the harm, without loss or profit for the victim, compensated, on the one hand, the suffering endured as a result of the injuries, and on the other, under a separate head of claim, harm due to anxiety of imminent death.”
Head of claim of worry and expectation for indirect victims – Judgment of the Mixed Chamber of the French Cour de Cassation of 25 March 2022 (n°20-17.072)
In this judgement, the Mixed Chamber of the French Cour de Cassation stated for the first time that harm due to worry and expectation by indirect victims should be compensated independently, thus creating a specific and standalone head of claim:
“the head of claim of harm due to worry and expectation suffered by indirect victims cannot be confused, as the Court of Appeal correctly held, with that arising from harm due to emotional loss (prejudice d’affection), and is not linked to any other head of claim under which these victims may be compensated, but constitutes a specific harm that is compensated as a standalone.’
Compensation under this head of claim may however only be made in the event of the direct victim’s serious injury or death:
‘This harm, occurring between the discovery of the event by the relatives and their knowledge of the outcome for the person in danger is, by its nature and intensity, a specific head of claim which gives rise to the right to compensation when the direct victim has suffered serious injury or has died as a result of this event.“
The Court of Cassation specified in the press release attached to these two judgements that these types of harm constitute two new heads of claim under the Dintilhac nomenclature.
These two rulings will ensure better consideration and compensation by the French courts of the various types of harm suffered by direct and indirect victims of accidents.