The respondent police officer was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after he came to the aid of the driver of a crashed vehicle. He later successfully took action to recover damages from the driver’s insurer. The insurer appealed to the Court of Appeal. While it was accepted that the respondent had proved the matters that would ordinarily render the driver liable for the respondent’s injury, the insurer contended that as a matter of policy, the respondent’s status as a police officer ought to have denied him a right to recover for his injury. Sofronoff P (Philippides and McMurdo JJA agreeing) dismissed the appeal, holding that provided the requirements governing the right of rescuers to recover for their injuries are otherwise proved, a rescuer’s status as a police officer is no bar to establishing liability.
Sofronoff P and Philippides and McMurdo JJA
10 December 2019
The respondent was a police officer who was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after he came to the aid of the driver of a crashed vehicle who succumbed to his injuries at the scene of the accident while his parents and the respondent were present. –. The respondent later brought an action for damages against the appellant, who was the driver’s insurer, on the basis that the driver’s negligent driving had caused the respondent to suffer psychiatric injury. . The substantial issue at trial was whether the driver owed the respondent the relevant duty of care. .
After the primary judge found in favour of the respondent, the insurer appealed to the Court of Appeal. –. While the insurer accepted that the respondent had proved the common law requirements for rendering the driver liable for the respondent’s injury, it argued that the respondent’s status as a police officer ought to have denied him a right to recover. –. Specifically, the insurer contended that the primary judge erred in holding that the driver owed the respondent a duty of care where policy considerations otherwise dictated that a duty of care should not arise. , –.
Whether the respondent’s status precluded recovery
Sofronoff P specifically doubted the propriety of an intermediate appellant court that was charged with determining a question of law undertaking a policy analysis of common law tort liability and allowing policy, rather than principles drawn from relevant case law, to dictate an appellate outcome. . His Honour in turn noted that the insurer’s position was inconsistent with the decision in Hirst v Nominal Defendant  2 Qd R 133, in which the driver of a speeding car was found liable to a police officer who pursued the driver at high speed and suffered injury after losing control of his own vehicle. –.
After observing that the Court was obliged to follow Hirst unless it was shown to be clearly incorrect, Sofronoff P affirmed that decision and reasoned that, as a matter of principle, Hirst was not distinguishable from the appeal under consideration. . His Honour also highlighted that the decision of the High Court in Wicks v State Rail Authority (NSW) (2010) 241 CLR 60, in which the plaintiff rescuers were police officers, similarly did not suggest that the status of the plaintiffs was relevant in the way contended for by the insurer. .
In the circumstances Sofronoff P confirmed that, provided the principles governing the right of rescuers to recover damages are satisfied, the fact that a rescuer is a police officer is not a bar to liability, regardless of whether the injuries suffered are physical, psychiatric, or both. .
In the result, Sofronoff P (Philippides and McMurdo JJA agreeing) dismissed the appeal with costs. –.