Reporter Awarded $180,000 in Workcover Common Law Claim for PTSD – Employee Rights/Labour Relations

A journalist has been awarded $180,000 in damages as part of her WorkCover common law claim for psychiatric injuries after being exposed to traumatic events as a court and criminal reporter.

CLAIMING WORKERS FOR PTSD AFTER REPEATED EXPOSURE TO TRAUMATIC EVENTS AND MATERIALS

YZ (a pseudonym) brought a claim against the Age in 2019 after suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (‘PTSD’).

After being repeatedly exposed to trauma during her employment over a 10-year period, YZ filed a Workcover claim for her psychiatric injuries.

Trauma included participation;

  • murder, death and rape crime scenes;

  • funerals of personalities;

  • police searches;

  • criminal trials and convictions involving violence;

  • historical cases of sexual abuse; and

  • the Black Saturday fires.

In evidence, she said she was particularly affected by crimes involving children.

Judge O’Neil said that YZ:

“The evidence regarding her exposure to trauma was frightening. She was regularly distressed and at times unable to carry on. This reaction was undoubtedly the result of the PTSD which I am convinced she suffers from.”

WHAT WERE THE ALLEGATIONS OF NEGLIGENCE AGAINST HIS EMPLOYER?

YZ alleged that The Age:

  • was negligent in not having a system in place to enable him to deal with the trauma of his work;

  • failed to provide him with appropriate support, advice and training; and

  • did not intervene when she and others complained.

At the heart of her case is the fact that in April 2010 she was transferred to the Supreme Court‘s reporting service after complaining that she could not cope with trauma as a court reporter.

CLAIM FOR COMPENSATION FOR PSYCHOLOGICAL DAMAGE FILED

YZ brought an action for negligence damages (a common law action) against his employer for their alleged negligence.

His claim was only for compensation for his pain and suffering, not for the loss of his ability to work.

His claim related to his psychiatric injuries resulting from his repeated exposure to trauma. Symptoms severely affected her mental health and included frequent tears, high levels of distress, frequent nightmares, anxiety and alcohol abuse.

WHAT WAS THE RESULT ?

The Court accepted that The Age was responsible for the injuries suffered by YZ.

The Court determined that The Age breached its duty of care to YZ regarding reactive and proactive measures that could reduce her risk of PTSD as a result of repeated exposure to traumatic events.

In assessing the amount of damages it was just and reasonable to award YZ, the Court took into account his “substantial” exposure to a wide range of traumatic events. These events caused her to suffer from very significant and debilitating symptoms for a number of years, including depression and anxiety, with panic attacks.

The Court admitted that she also had problems with motivation, memory and concentration, and that her sleep was significantly affected by graphic nightmares.

YZ had undergone a series of treatments and medications that had significantly improved her symptoms. However, the Court agreed that she had been significantly psychologically scarred and concluded that she was likely to suffer the effects of her continuing symptoms in the future.

As a result, the Court awarded YZ $180,000 in compensation for her pain and suffering.

WHAT DOES THE CASE TELL US?

YZ’s case is a good reminder that employers must take reasonable care of their employees – especially in workplaces where there is a high risk of psychological or other harm.

It won’t be enough to say “it’s a baptism of fire we all go through” when considering an employer’s legal duty to exercise due diligence.

Second, while awarding compensation for pain and suffering is a useful complement to information on what courts might award as a result of a psychiatric injury, it should be noted that the amount of compensation awarded by the courts depends heavily on the facts of each case.

In Victoria, there is no ‘scale’ or ‘table’ that tells a court how much compensation for pain and suffering should be awarded in a given case. For this reason, injured people and their legal representatives turn to cases such as YZ for advice on how much compensation might be awarded for certain injuries.

While in this case YZ was awarded $180,000 for his pain and suffering, courts in Victoria have frequently awarded between $200,000 and $350,000 for pain and suffering when the facts of a given case support the amount of the compensation awarded.

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