Oil pollution: Black v Braer Corporation and others (30 July 1998) Outer House of the Court of Session

United Kingdom
Derrick Black brought an action against the Braer Corporation and others for compensation under Sections 1 and 12 of the Merchant Shipping (Oil Pollution) Act 1971 for personal injuries suffered as a result of the 1993 Braer tanker spill. His injuries included both physical injuries and psychological trauma. The Braer Corporation argued that 'damage' in the statutory provisions did not encompass all types of loss suffered as a result of the oil spill. Although the Braer Corporation accepted that 'damage' extended to physical injury, it was argued that it did not include stress, anxiety and depression, as these were merely a consequence of other damage suffered rather than themselves being a direct result of the pollution incident. On behalf of Mr Black, it was asserted that the psychological damage suffered could be directly linked to the pollution and that it was for the person bringing the proceedings to prove in the circumstances the exact nature of the conditions suffered and the causes of them. The judge took a systematic approach.

He considered that the defendant's concession that physical injury could be included in an action for compensation under the statutory provisions was important. As the Braer Corporation had accepted that physical injury was included as there was nothing in the statutory definition of "damage" which excluded it, there was no reason why other personal injuries such as stress, depression and anxiety should not also be included, as these were not excluded explicitly from the statutory definition either. The judge held that in any case it is for the person bringing the action to produce proof of the precise conditions suffered and the causes of them. As a result of this decision it may be possible to seek compensation under Sections 1 and 12 of the Merchant Shipping (Oil Pollution) Act 1971 for psychological damage incurred as a result of distress suffered following incidents such as the Braer tanker spill. (Times Law Reports, 12 October 1998)