Police Officer attending accident scene entitled to recover damages

20 January 2020

A police officer recovered damages for psychiatric injury arising out of his attendance at the scene of an accident against the CTP insurer of the vehicle driven negligently by the deceased.

In issue

  • Whether the negligent deceased driver owed his attempted rescuer a duty of care to avoid causing the rescuer the harm that he had suffered by reason of his attendance at the crash in the course of his duties as a Qld police officer.

The background

Williams crashed his Holden into a tree after driving at excessive speed while intoxicated by illicit drugs and sustained critical injuries. Senior Constable Caffrey attended and rendered first aid but Williams passed away.

Caffrey sued the CTP insurer of the Holden, alleging that he sustained PTSD as a consequence of Williams’ negligent driving. The CTP Insurer denied that Williams owed a duty of care to Caffrey, and argued that Caffrey’s status as a police officer precluded any duty being owed because;

  • A duty being owed would discourage the public from reporting incidents requiring police attendance;
  • A duty being owed would expose defendants to unjustifiably expanded liability in respect of psychiatric harm;
  • Members of the public are entitled to expect that a police officer will be equipped, by way of sufficient training and experience, to avoid pure psychiatric harm.

The decision at trial

The trial judge rejected those arguments and awarded Caffrey $1,092,948.

The issues on appeal

Whether a duty of care is owed by a person who causes injuries to him or herself not to cause pure psychiatric harm to a person who, in the course of their profession, is required to attend to events where distressing injuries will be present.

The decision on appeal

The principles governing liability for causing psychiatric harm to rescuers are:

  • Damages are recoverable for a recognisable psychiatric condition, not for emotional distress;
  • It is not necessary to prove that the plaintiff was of normal fortitude;
  • It is not necessary to prove that the injury was the result of sudden shock;
  • The ordinary principles of negligence apply to cases of pure psychiatric injury.

Caffrey had proved the common law requirements that would render the defendant liable. Policy considerations did not deny the existence of liability. President Sofranoff doubted that it was the proper function of an intermediate court of appeal to undertake a policy analysis, rather than to apply the principles established in the relevant case law.

Implications for you

There is no policy reason why a claim for pure psychiatric injury should be denied to rescuers, whether those rescuers have a statutory obligation to assist or not.

AAI Limited v Caffrey [2019] QCA 293

Ask us how we can help

Receive our latest news, insights and events
Barry Nilsson acknowledges the traditional owners of the land on which we conduct our business, and pays respect to their Elders past, present and emerging.
Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation