Wrong-way Driver not Responsible for Posttraumatic Stress

A person driving in the wrong direction on the highway crashed into an oncoming car and caught fire. A police patrol, by chance, came around and tried to help. Due to this accident, a police officer suffered posttraumatic stress syndrome. The mandatory car insurance (Kraftfahrzeugpflichtversicherung) was sued to pay for damages but refused. After passing the lower courts, the BGH ruled on May 22, 2007, re VI ZR 17/06.


The plaintiff, a federal state of Germany on behalf of the police officer, sued the car insurance of the person responsible for the accident on behalf of the injured police officer for damages relating to a posttraumatic stress syndrome. The insured car driverhad driven down a street as a wrong-way driver (coll. German “Geisterfahrer”, standard German "Falschfahrer"). He hit the oncoming car head-on, in which a family of four persons was driving. Both cars caught fire and after some time totally burned out and all the occupants died. On the way home from duty, two police officers trying to dodge the cars of the accident, hit the guardrail, and the driving police officer endured a distortion of the neck and back. The officer later also claimed to be suffering a posttraumatic syndrome as a result of witnessing the accident where the victims were burning to death and he was unable to do anything against it. The plaintiff claims that the officer suffers a reduction of the earning capacityand was not able to perform his duties over several months.

The BGH decided that psychic injuries were not caused by experiencing a tragic accident. Generally, psychic injuries come into question when the injured person was not personally involved in the accident. Even when one assumes that mental injuries can be considered as sicknesses, they do not fall under the law (§823 I BGB, §7 I 1 StVG) because such experience is part of the risk of general life. This is even more true for policemen as this belongs to their general professional risk. It can be expected from their constant professional exposure to traumatic circumstances that they have obtained a thick skin. This argumentation doesn’t contradict reimbursing for the neck and back distortion because these injuries can be directly related to the accident. The court saw as the only possibility to awarddamages for psychic injuries when persons reliable for the accident impose the victim into the role of a immediate participant of an accident. Under the given facts of this case, no damages for a mental injury could be rewarded.

Published on the old CMS: 2007/8/27
Read on the old CMS till November 2008: 1,239 reads

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