A journalist was awarded $180,000 for pain and suffering damages in her WorkCover common law claim for psychiatric injuries after she was exposed to traumatic events as a crime and court reporter.
Workers’ compensation claim for PTSD after repeated exposure to traumatic events and material
YZ (a pseudonym) brought a claim against the Age in 2019 after suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (‘PTSD’).
After being repeatedly exposed to trauma in the course of her employment over a 10-year period, YZ brought a Workcover claim for her psychiatric injuries.
The trauma included attending;
- murder, death and rape crime scenes;
- funerals of high-profile people;
- police searches;
- criminal trials and sentences involving violence;
- historical sexual abuse cases; and
- the Black Saturday fires.
In evidence, she said she was particularly affected by crimes involving children.
Judge O’Neil said that YZ’s:
“evidence in relation to her exposure to trauma was chilling. She was regularly distressed and at times unable to go on. That reaction was no doubt as a result of the PTSD I am satisfied she suffers.”
What were the allegations of negligence against her employer?
YZ alleged that The Age:
- was negligent in not having a system in place to enable her to deal with the trauma of her work;
- failed to provide her with appropriate support, counselling and training; and
- failed to intervene when she and others complained.
Central to her case was that in April 2010 she was transferred to Supreme Court reporting after she had complained of being unable to deal with trauma as a crime reporter.
Compensation claim for psychological injury lodged
YZ made a claim in negligence for damages (a common law claim) against her employer for their alleged negligence.
Her claim was made only in relation to compensation for her pain and suffering, not for loss of work capacity.
Her claim was for her psychiatric injuries arising from her repeated exposure to trauma. Symptoms severely affected her mental health and included frequent teariness, high levels of distress, frequent nightmares, anxiety and alcohol abuse.
What Was the Result?
The Court accepted that The Age was liable for the injuries suffered by YZ.
The Court determined that The Age breached its duty of care to YZ in relation to reactive and proactive steps which might reduce the risk of her suffering PTSD as a result of repeated exposure to traumatic events.
In assessing the amount of damages which was fair and reasonable to award to YZ, the Court considered her “substantial” exposure to a wide range of traumatic events. These events caused her to suffer very significant and disabling symptoms over a number of years including depression and anxiety, with panic attacks.
The Court accepted that she also struggled with motivation, memory and concentration, and that her sleep was significantly impacted by graphic nightmares.
YZ had undergone a raft of treatment and medication which led to her symptoms improving significantly. However, the Court agreed that she had been significantly psychologically scarred and found that she was likely to suffer the effects of her ongoing symptoms into the future.
As a result, the Court awarded compensation to YZ for her pain and suffering in the amount of $180,000.
What Does the Case Tell Us?
The case of YZ is a good reminder that employers need to take reasonable care in relation to their employees – especially in workplaces where there is a high risk of psychological or other injury.
It won’t be good enough to say “this is a baptism of fire that all of us go through” when considering an employer’s legal duty to take reasonable care.
Secondly, while the award of pain and suffering compensation is a helpful addition to the information about what Courts might award following psychiatric injury, it should be noted that the amount of compensation awarded by Courts depends heavily on the facts in each case.
In Victoria, there is no “scale” or “table” that tells a Court how much pain and suffering compensation should be awarded in any given case. Because of this, people who are injured, and their legal representatives, look to cases such as YZ for guidance about how much compensation might be awarded for certain injuries.
While in this case YZ was awarded $180,000 for her pain and suffering, Victorian Courts have frequently awarded between $200,000 to $350,000 for pain and suffering where the facts of a given case support that amount of compensation being awarded.