A former police officer has been awarded $1.4 million in damages from the State of NSW as compensation for psychological damages arising out of their duties. (Melanie Sills v State of New South Wales  NSWDC 119)
The ex-cop had been exposed to a number of shocking traumatic incidents, including suicides and the death of children.
The District Court initially rejected the injured police officer’s claim on the basis that two police psychologists had diagnosed her with PTSD and recommended further counselling therefore discharging the duty of care owed by the State.
However, on appeal it was held that NSW Police failed to adequately follow-up on the Police Psychologist’s recommendations and address the ex-employee’s worsening condition as their own policies and procedures provide that they should.
The Court distinguished this case from that of State of NSW v Briggs*, where the Court had previously ruled that unless a defendant acted unreasonably in failing to take a course of action that would have eliminated the risk of harm, negligence was not established.
In particular, the duty of an employer to identify and reasonably address foreseeable risk of harm, including in relation to psychological welfare, is relative to the traumatic events to which the employee is likely or knowingly going to be exposed to.
Therefore, emergency service organisations should be equipped with thorough policies and procedures to identify and address risks to their employee’s psychological welfare. However, even if there are adequate policies and procedures they are only effective insofar as they have been exhaustively imposed and, in the present case, the NSW Police failed to do so.
This result serves as a reminder of the importance that safety procedures and policies are strictly adhered to by employers when it comes to the psychological welfare of their employees.
Compensation claims can be complex and stressful. If you require advice, assistance or consultation, contact our expert team.
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* NSWCA 344
This post is of a general nature and does not constitute legal advice