On first impressions, you might not think there is a link between Victorian author Charles Dickens and compensation claims in the 21st century, but you would be wrong. In fact Charles Dickens experiences in a train crash nearly 150 years ago closely resemble what many sufferers of acute stress and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder go through today.
Back in June 1865 Mr Dickens was returning from France, accompanied by his mistress and her mother. He was travelling by train to London when the train and nearly all the carriages left the track whilst crossing a river bridge. The accident was caused by engineers working on the line who had removed some of the rails on the bridge whilst they were carrying out repairs. Due to a lack of communication between the engineers and the train staff, the rails had not been put back by the time the train came to cross the bridge.
10 people died in the accident and a further 49 were injured. Fortunately Mr Dickens was in one of the carriages to remain on the track and was uninjured. According to accounts of the accident he played an important part rescuing some of his fellow passengers and providing comfort to the injured. Despite suffering no physical injuries, it is clear from his writing after the accident that the event had a profound affect on him and that he was deeply shaken by what he had seen.
Writing to an old school friend a few days after the accident, Dickens said, “I am a little shaken, not by the beating and dragging of the carriage in which I was, but by the hard work afterwards in getting out the dying and the dead, which was most horrible…” and that “In writing these scanty words of recollection, I feel the shake and am obliged to stop.” It was not just his letters that reflected the impact the near-death experience had had on him, in his later years Dickens returned on several occasions to describe and allude to scenes of disaster and catastrophe.
Had Charles Dickens been assessed for psychological symptoms today, it is quite likely that he would have been provisionally diagnosed as suffering from acute stress disorder. Depending on the progression of his symptoms he may later have been diagnosed as suffering from full blown Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. If he had been alive today, then he may have been able to make a claim for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder compensation against either the train company, or the engineers working on the line at the time of the accident.
Looking at the Judicial Studies Board guidelines for personal injury compensation, it is possible to come up with an estimate for the amount of compensation that would be paid out today for someone suffering the same types of psychological injuries that affected Charles Dickens. Although Dicken’s symptoms seem to have affected him profoundly in the last 5 years of his life, they did not prevent him from continuing his writing and he was still able to lead a normal life. Therefore it is likely he would have been suffering from moderate or moderately severe Post Traumatic Stress. A psychological injury at this level would attract compensation somewhere between £5,000 and £25,000.