Which case won?

The case for the insurer
  • The police officer claims that our insured, the deceased driver, was negligent and that this negligence caused him psychiatric injuries. For the claim to succeed, the officer needs to establish that the driver owed him a duty of care.
  • A police officer is bound by duty to attend at the scene of a motor accident and members of the public are entitled to expect that a police officer attending an accident will be sufficiently trained and experienced to avoid psychiatric harm.
  • For these reasons, the policeman’s psychiatric injury was not reasonably foreseeable by the driver, so no duty of care on the part of the driver arises
  • Alternatively, any such foreseeable risk was slight and did not warrant the driver taking or avoiding any action for that reason.
  • The police officer was a mere bystander at the scene of the accident and only witnessed its aftermath. He did not witness the accident itself, nor was he personally involved in the events leading up to it, so he had no reason to blame himself for the events that took place.
  • Additionally, the police officer and the driver had no pre-existing relationship and were strangers to one another, so the officer had no particular connection to the driver.
  • The police officer cannot establish that the driver owed him a duty of care and his claim should therefore fail.
The case for the police officer
  • It was reasonably foreseeable that any police officer who attended the scene of the car accident caused by the driver’s negligence would suffer a psychiatric injury.
  • I was not a mere “bystander” to the driver’s death. I comforted him, I tried to comfort his parents and I assisted them to say a final farewell to their son. Then I watched him die.
  • I did everything I could to keep the driver alive – I cleared his airway, encouraged him and alerted the firefighters not to cut him from his vehicle until the paramedics arrived, to reduce the risk of a heart attack. My role was that of a “rescuer”.
  • Even though as a police officer I was trained in employing techniques of emotional detachment to guard against psychiatric harm at scenes of trauma, my “armour” of detachment was pierced by the intense humanity of the situation.
  • It is unclear to me what I could have done differently or more safely to protect myself against psychiatric harm, given that I was in a highly pressurised situation at the scene of an emergency.
  • The driver owed me a duty of care and I should be compensated for the injuries that his negligence has caused me to suffer.

So, which case won?

Cast your judgment below to find out
Case A Case B

Case B won. You were right!

How people voted
case a42%
case b58%

Expert commentary on the court's decision

“The court found that the fact a police officer is bound by duty to pursue a speeding driver or to attend at the scene of an accident caused by a driver’s negligence does not absolve the driver of a duty to the police officer.”
Queensland Supreme Court finds in favour of police officer

In the case Caffrey v AAI Limited [2019] QSC 7, the Queensland Supreme Court ruled in favour of the policeman, Mr David Caffrey, against the CTP insurer, AAI Limited. Accordingly, the insurer was liable to pay compensatory damages.

The lengthy judgment referred to numerous cases concerning psychiatric injury, traversing elements of foreseeability, direct perception, the status of the driver as both the defendant and the sole victim and the role of Mr Caffrey as a rescuer, as well as examining policy considerations.

Obligations of police officers and elevated risk of psychiatric harm

The judge stated that a member of the public, such as the driver in this case, is not entitled to drive in any manner he wishes, without having regard to police officers who may attend at an accident he may cause, simply because police officers have undertaken to attend at such scenes for the benefit of the public as part of their job.

The court found that the fact a police officer is bound by duty to pursue a speeding driver, or to attend at the scene of an accident caused by a driver’s negligence, does not absolve the driver of a duty to the police officer. In the view of the court, the fact that the police officer has no choice, because he or she is legally obliged to respond to emergencies, actually places the officer in a situation of “elevated risk” of psychiatric harm.

The judge went on to accept that a duty of care towards Mr Caffrey did exist.

Psychiatric reports tendered as medical evidence

Four psychiatrist reports were tendered into evidence. A joint expert report was also provided and the doctors gave concurrent evidence.

The summary of the medical evidence was that Mr Caffrey had a pre-existing vulnerability to suffering a psychiatric injury, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, he did not meet the diagnostic criteria for a specific personality or other psychiatric disorder prior to the motor vehicle accident on 17 February 2013.

Could the psychiatric injury be attributed to other events?

Commonly, in these types of cases, there would be an argument from the defendant that because the injured person was a police officer, there would be some causation for the psychiatric injury attributed to other events witnessed or experienced during the course of employment as a police officer.

The task for the court was to assess the degree of probability that Mr Caffrey would have developed PTSD in any case and adjust damages to reflect that degree of probability.

As a result of this and despite the common law position that the defendant is to “take the plaintiff as they find them”, there was a discount of 30% in damages on the basis that there was a possibility that Mr Caffrey would have succumbed to a psychiatric injury in any event. Ultimately, he was awarded $1,092,947.88.

Police officers who are injured responding to motor vehicle accidents in NSW

The case is consistent with a similar NSW case in Wicks v State Rail Authority of New South Wales [2010] HCA 22. Police officers who are injured responding to motor vehicle accidents in NSW should submit a NSW Motor Accidents Compensation Act claim form, in addition to making a statutory NSW workers compensation claim.

If the attendance at the accident occurs on or after 1 December 2017, the police officer should submit a claim form for statutory benefits under the NSW Motor Accident Injuries Act 2017. This allows for a claim to be made for statutory benefits under the NSW motor accidents legislation, in the event that the workers compensation claim for statutory benefits is denied.

The service of the claim form also alerts the insurer to the possibility of making a claim for damages on or after 20 months from the date of the accident.

NOTICE: This article is accurate as at the time of publication and does not constitute legal advice. Please see our legal notices page for more information. Information related to coronavirus can be outdated very quickly.

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