NSW Police Force ordered to pay injured police officer over $650,000 in compensation for psychological and physical injuries

PUBLISHED 25 May 2017

For a period of over 25 years our client was engaged in the NSW Police Force as a serving Police Officer in the state of New South Wales.

He was designated to the finger printing section of the NSW Police Force throughout various periods at Sydney/Parramatta and Gosford. He was regularly exposed to scenes of death and serious injury at crime scene investigations.

As a result he suffered significant psychical and psychological injuries that resulted in him not being able to work, and caused him to be medically retired by the NSW Police Force.

We launched legal proceedings in the Supreme Court Of NSW against the NSW Police Force, in negligence, in relation to our client’s physical and psychological injuries.

Psychological Injury:

Our client sustained psychological injury and injury to his neck in the course of his police duties caused by the negligence of the NSW Police Force. He was regularly exposed to scenes of death and serious injury at crime scene investigations.

The risk of psychological injury to our client was reasonably foreseeable, not insignificant, and was known or reasonably should have been known to the NSW Police Force because our client was regularly exposed to scene of death and serious injury at crime scene investigations.

Notwithstanding the fact that the NSW Police Force was aware of the risk of psychological injury caused by continuous exposure to crime scene, the NSW Police Force breached its duty of care in failing to take reasonable care to avoid risk of psychological injury to our client.

Some of the particulars of negligence and breach of duty of care on the part of NSW Police Force included failing to establish and maintain a safe system of work, failing to warn our client of the symptoms and signs of psychological damage, failing to have our client psychologically assessed for his suitability to perform duties in the finger printing section, failing to properly monitor our clients psychological health, failing to ensure that our clients psychological health was regularly reviewed, failing to reasonably respond to our clients ‘red flags’ revealed on his annual test results, failing to provide any psychological d-briefing, failing to provide all ranged timely psychological counselling and treatment, requiring our client to be available on call over night for unreasonably lengthy periods, failing to institute and maintain a reasonable tenure policy, requiring our client to remain in the finger printing unit for an unreasonably lengthy period of time, requiring our client to attend in crime scene in his local area for approximately 18 years without transfer, rotation of duties or reasonable rest bite, and failing to institute and maintain a system of rotation of duties.

Physical Injury:

In relation to our clients neck injury, the risk of his neck injury was reasonable foreseeable and not insignificant and was known or ought to have known to the NSW Police Force because our client was required to examine and compare finger print specimens in an ergonomically unsafe position over time. It was alleged that the NSW Police Force breached its duty of care in failing to take reasonable care to avoid the risks of physical injury to our client.

Some of those particulars of breach of duty of care included failing to establish and maintain a safe system of work, failing to warn our client of the risks of physical injury by working long hours in a static hunched position over finger printing samples, requiring our client to work in a static hunches position, failing to provide a chair and table of adequate and complimentary height, failing to conduct an ergonomic appraisal of our clients work place, failing to institute and enforce a system of periodic exercises and stretches to alleviate the position effects of our clients static posture.

Liability And Medical Expert Evidence:

It was also alleged that this was an exceptional case within the legislation, the civil liability act because both our clients injuries were caused by the cumulative effect of duties over time to which the NSW Police Force breach of duty care had contributed and that responsibility for our clients harm should have been imposed upon the NSW Police Force as a defacto employer.

Our client was medically discharged from the NSW Police Force on or around due to his post-traumatic stress disorder condition and his neck injury.

Also the Commissioner of Police certified that our client was hurt on duty and the Commissioner of Police conceded that our client was psychologically and physically injured in the cause of his employment duties. It was accordingly ascertain that the NSW Police Force is a stopped from asserting to the contrary.

Had it not been for our client’s injuries and his medical discharge, our client would have continued to serve as a Police Officer and gained promotions. There was a significant period of delay in relation to our client pursuing his claim as he was not aware of his legal rights in the matter.

Until our client consulted GMP, he was unaware that there may be reasonable prospects of success in proving that his injuries were caused by the NSW Police Force as negligence and that he may be entitled to claim substantial damages without affecting his continuing right to his annual superannuation allowance.

A liability expert report was obtained from a safety engineer which addressed the issue of our client’s neck injury and unsafe system of work in causing his injury as he was required to examine and compare finger print specimens in an ergonomically safe position over a significant period of time.

We also obtained medical expert evidence in relation to his psychological injury from psychologist that made it clear that our client as a result of his exposure to a multiplicity of traumatic and stressing events during which time he was engaged as a finger print examiner and crime scene investigator he emotionally decompensated and developed consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder that has been chronic in duration. He also developed a major depressive disorder.

Furthermore, the psychiatrist indicated that it was also significant to note that the occupational demands placed upon him were excessive and he was not provided with relief or removal from front line forensic duties significantly contributed to the development of his psychiatric disorder as well as the chronicity of his symptoms.

A number of psychiatrists were engaged on behalf of our client and all of them came back with the same opinion.

Even the psychiatrist for the NSW Police Force made concessions in relation to our clients significant psychological arising from his employment.

Proceedings were filed in the Supreme Court of NSW in respect of our client’s injuries, losses and damages.

The NSW Police Force filed a defence denying that they were negligent, and in the alternative they stated that our clients injuries were either caused or contributed by his own negligence in failing to monitor his own mental, emotional and/or behavioural status, in failing to seek help from the NSW Police Force or any other competent medical practitioner for any mental, emotional and/or behavioural problems he may have been experiencing. All of these were rejected by our client’s expert medical psychiatrist.

The parties were required to file all of the liability and medical expert evidence in the proceedings for the matter to proceed to a full court hearing.  It was estimated that the hearing would be 10 days plus duration with the requirement of liability and medical expert evidence.

The court also directed the parties to attend to a court appointed mediation Hearing for the purposes of narrowing the issues and seeking to resolve the totality of the proceedings.

After a number of attempts the matter was resolved with our client being awarded substantial damages of compensation as a result of the negligence of the defendant in causing his injuries, losses and damages.

Our client was awarded significant damages of compensation in negligence to account of his permanent impairment and pain and suffering, past and future treatment expenses, past and future loss of wages, past and future loss of superannuation and past and future care arising from his neck injury and his psychological injury caused and during in the course of his employment with the NSW Police Force over a significant period of time.

Our client was extremely happy and relieved with the outcome of the proceedings and the settlement of his claim and felt rightly justified in bringing the claim against the NSW Police Force.

Conclusion:-

If you are a Police Officer who has suffered physical and psychological injuries during and in the course of your employment for the NSW Police Force, you may be entitled to receive a substantial award of damages in compensation for their negligence in causing your injuries arising out of your employment.

In this case, our client was a Police Officer who was regularly exposed to scenes of death and serious injuries at crime scene investigations over a significant period of time as well as being required to examine and compare finger print specimens in an ergonomically safe position over a significant period of time which were the cause of his injuries.

The expert liability and the medical expert evidence commissioned on behalf of our client was quite clear that the NSW Police Force was responsible in negligence for causing our client significant injuries, losses and damages.

Our client was awarded substantial damages in compensation as a result of his injuries and continuing disabilities suffered as a serving Police Officer over a period of 25 years. This compensation was in addition to his Police Pension he had been awarded after being certified medically unfit from the Police Force.

This was an extraordinary and deserving result for this Police Officer who served and protected the community for many years.

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