The plaintiff served as an ambulance officer with the defendant
for 15 years. He ceased employment in 1999, suffering from post
traumatic stress disorder and an obsessive compulsive disorder
which he alleged was caused by attending many traumatic and
distressing scenes over the years in the course of his
The defendant had in place a program to enable its employees to
recognise signs of dysfunction result in from work related
stressors. The program was referred to as 'Priority 1'. The
program involved education of senior officers in stress recognition
and stress prevention.
The plaintiff alleged that during his final years of service, he
made a number of complaints to senior ambulance officers of his
desire to be transferred from the Gayndah Station. He complained
that this was due to him not coping well with his duties, and he
felt that his skills were deteriorating in such a remote
The Decision at Trial
The plaintiff alleged that the defendant failed to have in place
an adequate system of psychological counselling and treatment, and
that senior officers were not adequately trained to identify signs
of stress or dysfunction in employees. He alleged that he did not
receive any counselling, psychological support, treatment or
The trial judge held that the defendant had not properly trained
senior officers to identify signs of stress or anxiety in their
employees. The plaintiff's 'cluster of complaints' in
his last years of service should have led a properly trained senior
officer to recognise signs of psychological distress so as to
recommend or refer the plaintiff for psychological evaluation or
treatment. The trial judge found in favour of the plaintiff and
awarded him $569,635.31 in damages.
The Decision on Appeal
The defendant appealed arguing that even if training of the kind
referred to had been established, the plaintiff's supervisors
could not have been expected to recognise any signs of
psychological dysfunction in him.
The Court of Appeal upheld the appeal and dismissed the
The Court of Appeal said that bearing in mind the
plaintiff's proficiency in his duties and his ambition (he was
a highly experienced and well regarded ambulance officer), it was
difficult to see how a layman in the position of any of the
plaintiff's supervisors, even one trained to recognise
psychological dysfunction, would have been able to discern in the
plaintiff's 'cluster of complaints' that the plaintiff
was suffering from such a dysfunction. The Court of Appeal pointed
to the fact that no one supervisor was privy to the total
'cluster of complaints'. In addition, there was no explicit
indication from the plaintiff in his complaints that he was
suffering from stressful experiences in the course of employment or
that he was not coping.
The Court of Appeal held that it was reasonable for the
plaintiff's supervisors to treat his complaints and demands as
claims for an improvement in his conditions of employment rather
than as an indicator of psychological dysfunction.
The Court of Appeal observed that a supervisor could reasonably
have considered suggesting that the plaintiff seek psychological
assessment or treatment as unnecessary and inappropriate to a
valued ambulance officer of high proficiency whose reasons for
seeking a transfer appeared to be perfectly reasonable and normal.
Accordingly, the Court of Appeal held that even if the
plaintiff's superiors had been trained as suggested, they would
not necessarily have responded in the manner that the plaintiff
says they ought have. The situation may have been different if the
plaintiff's complaints were clear and unequivocal reports or
signs of psychological dysfunction. The Court of Appeal also
pointed to the 'Priority 1' program, which it accepted was
a serious attempt by the defendant to discharge its obligations to
care for the mental health of its employees.
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What happens if a patient, particularly a mental health patient,.
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