Court upholds ex-policeman's claim against insurer over fatal crash

A former Queensland police officer left traumatised by a fatal car accident he attended in the line of duty has had a decision to grant him more than $1 million in damages upheld.

The insurer of the driver, who later died of his injuries, had appealed against an earlier Supreme Court decision on the grounds that the officer's status as a police officer denied him the ability to recover damages.

But in a decision delivered on Tuesday, three Queensland Court of Appeal judges dismissed the appeal by AAI Limited, with costs.

The former senior constable, David Paul Caffrey, had sued the insurer for damages, alleging that he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the incident.

The driver, known as Williams, had been travelling at excessive speed while under the influence of methamphetamine, amphetamine and marijuana when he crashed.

Whether Williams owed Mr Caffrey a duty of care to avoid causing him harm was the "only issue" in the appeal, Justice Walter Sofronoff, QC, wrote in his decision.

On the evening of February 17, 2013, Mr Caffrey attended the scene to find Williams trapped in his Holden Commodore with his legs "very squashed" after crashing into a tree.

Williams had gone out to look for his wife after an argument. His parents, whom he had phoned earlier, would later drive around searching for him.

They came across the scene and were reassured by Mr Caffrey. After the fire brigade arrived to cut Williams free, paramedics informed Mr Caffrey the man was going to die.

Mr Caffrey then took Williams' mother by the hand and led her to "go to say goodbye".

In a written outline of their argument, the insurer said the appeal, and the earlier trial, raised the question of whether those exposed to distressing events in the course of their occupation were entitled to damages for "pure psychiatric injury".

It was submitted that such a decision could open up the potential for other professions, such as firefighters, paramedics, doctors and nurses, to make similar claims for compensation.

But Justice Sofronoff found that in awarding damages, Justice Peter Flanagan, QC, had "concluded correctly" that Mr Caffrey was owed a duty of care.

Whether the injury was physical, psychiatric or both, "the fact that a rescuer happens to be a police officer does not constitute a legal bar to liability", he wrote.

Originally published by Matt Dennien for Brisbane TImes

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