In a landmark decision a NSW Supreme Court judge recently ruled
a person who was seriously injured in a plane crash has the right
to claim damages for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the air
Key to the decision was Justice Monika Schmidt's acceptance
that the definition of the words "bodily injury" could
include PTSD. It is a term that was first used in 1929 for laws
regarding compensation for air crash victims and it didn't
include purely psychological injuries.
Victoria Gallanders, travel law specialist at Stacks Goudkamp,
said compensation for international plane crash injuries today are
under the Montreal Convention 1999.
The case centred on a nurse on a care flight that crashed into
the sea near Norfolk Island after running out of fuel in 2009. The
nurse had several serious physical injuries and the airline
accepted they were liable for those injuries. The airline also
conceded the nurse's depressive and anxiety disorders were
caused by her physical injuries and should be compensated. However,
the airline disputed that they should pay the nurse compensation
for her PTSD.
Previous courts had found that "bodily injury" could
include a psychological condition if that condition was caused by a
physical injury, or if the psychological condition had caused a
physical change to the injured person's body, such as an
alteration to the function of the brain. The question before the
Supreme Court was whether the nurse's PTSD fell into one of
The Supreme Court's landmark ruling was that the nurse's
PTSD was caused, at least in part, by her physical injuries. It
also found that psychiatric injuries may be proven to be a
'species of bodily injury', and that medical evidence
supported that the nurse's PTSD had caused damage to her brain.
The court therefore ruled that the nurse's PTSD was a
"bodily injury" under Article 17 of the Montreal
Convention, and as a result the nurse was entitled to compensation
for her losses arising from this condition, as well as her other
Victoria Gallanders said it was a significant decision by the
Supreme Court and is a step closer to all psychological injuries
being compensable for air crash victims.
"This is a welcome decision which sensibly interprets
archaic 1920s wording in light of contemporary aviation safety and
advances in medical research," she said.
"Whilst some commentators may find this to be a
ground-breaking decision, in my view it is in line with the
previously decided US, UK and NSW cases which Justice Schmidt
considers in detail, and is a natural evolution of case law in this
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