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Police officer attends motor vehicle accident
A Queensland police officer attended a motor vehicle accident in
2013 involving a car driver who was speeding and intoxicated with
amphetamines and cannabis at the time of the collision.
The policeman attended the scene and tried to keep the driver
alive with first aid and encouragement. He was the first officer on
the scene, having arrived earlier than the ambulance paramedics and
the fire brigade.
The police officer had to deal with the arrival of the
driver's parents at the scene of the accident and had to
indicate to them that their son would not survive. The driver's
parents had to say goodbye to him at the accident scene.
The fact of having to deal with the driver's parents added
an extra level of trauma for the policeman, over and above the
trauma of dealing with the driver's injuries, which proved to
Policeman develops PTSD and makes claim for damages
The police officer developed post-traumatic stress disorder as a
result of what he witnessed at the motor vehicle accident scene. He
made a claim under Queensland's Motor Accident Insurance
Act for psychiatric injuries that he sustained
while dealing with the horrific circumstances of the accident and
the parents of the driver.
The insurer denied liability for the claim and the matter
proceeded for determination before the Queensland Supreme
Case a - The case for the insurer
Case b - The case for the police officer
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
Vote case A – the case for the insurer
Stacks Law Firm
Vote case B – the case for the police officer
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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