Woman’s $4.9m public liability claim appealed

Date: Mar 10, 2017

A nurse who was awarded nearly $4.9 million in damages following a public liability claim against an airline may now see her compensation reduced after a successful appeal.

The woman was travelling on a small aircraft to Samoa to pick up a patient and the patient’s husband before flying back to Melbourne. However, extreme weather forced the pilot to land the aircraft into the sea.

There were six passengers in the plane, including the plaintiff, all of whom spent 90 minutes in the water before being rescued.

NSW Supreme Court documents state that the incident left the nurse with severe physical and psychological ailments, including spinal problems and a right knee injury, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety.

The woman was left unable to work and received $4.87 million in damages after the judge’s decision went in her favour in 2015.

Public liability claim appeal

Despite the successful claim, the airline launched an appeal on the basis that the original judge deemed the plaintiff’s PTSD as a “bodily injury” under the Montreal Convention.

This piece of legislation is used in international airline liability cases, and the appellant claimed that PTSD is a psychological condition and should not be included in an award for damages.

The plaintiff, however, relied on expert medical testimony to argue that PTSD can cause structural changes in the brain that could constitute a bodily injury.

It was therefore up to the judge to decide whether the evidence indicated that the woman had experienced chemical or structural brain changes due to PTSD.

The appeal is upheld

The judge ruled in favour of the airline, noting that while medical experts said structural changes in the brain were possible in PTSD patients, no evidence was provided to show the plaintiff suffered such problems.

Nevertheless, the original trial judge stipulated that if PTSD was later ruled as not constituting a bodily injury, the plaintiff’s damages should only be reduced by 10 per cent overall.

The judge believed the plaintiff’s position would not be significantly improved even if PTSD were removed as a factor.

While the airline appealed this decision, the appellate judges affirmed the original judge’s ruling, which means the nurse’s reduction in damages will likely be capped, ensuring she is still entitled to a significant payout.

For more information on public liability claims and other forms of personal injury compensation, please contact a member of our team.

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