In Australia, we’re lucky to have more than 80,000 emergency service employees working tirelessly around the clock to ensure our safety and protection. But as the Australian Society for Traumatic Stress Studies also notes, around one in 10 of these workers has symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This can cause an array of problems in and outside of work – significantly affecting a person’s wellbeing and ability to perform tasks.
This was evident in a recent case brought before the NSW District Court where one NSW police woman (the appellant) experienced significant PTSD but didn’t receive the help needed to alleviate her symptoms.
Background of the case
The appellant enrolled as a police officer in 2003. Between this time and 2005 she attended a number of traumatic incidents which included motor vehicle accidents, stabbings, suicides and other horrifying events. These call -outs involved victims of all ages, including children who were a similar age to the officer’s offspring.
The case of one house fire on July 26, 2004, in which a young child perished, left a significant impact on the officer. Following this incident, the appellant attended an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) psychologist appointment, as she reported suffering flashbacks and nightmares. She was prescribed antidepressant medication in 2005.
The appellant submitted a claim for damages claiming the state of NSW failed to address her mental health issues and put the measures in place to help her.
What did the NSW police force do for the appellant?
Despite her PTSD symptoms, the appellant was still sent to various traumatic events as part of her work duties. This number fell into double figures. However, the Chief Inspector at this time explained that once a police officer had five or more incidents recorded in the register of traumatic incidents, he would contact the EAP hotline to ensure the affected person would receive help.
While the police force was somewhat aware of the appellant’s PTSD symptoms, various officers, including the appellant, revealed there was significant stigma attached to those experiencing mental health issues in the workplace. For this reason, the police woman was hesitant to come forward with her problems as she didn’t want to be seen as weak to her peers.
What did the court conclude?
After reviewing all evidence, the court decided the appellant had successfully established that the state breached its duty of care to her. This was on the grounds that despite knowing of her mental health issues, they continued deploying her to traumatic incidents that increased her PTSD symptoms. As a result, she was awarded damages at $1,405,000.
If you’ve suffered as a result of negligent behaviour in the workplace, it’s time to see if you’re entitled to damages. Get in touch with the workers compensation lawyers at Gerard Malouf & Partners to see how we can help.