A former Queensland policeman, who suffered post traumatic stress from seeing a driver die at an accident scene, has successfully sued the driver’s insurer for more than one million dollars.
Senior Constable David Caffrey won his case against AAI Limited on February 16, after claiming he had experienced psychological trauma following the fatal crash on the Sunshine Coast in 2013.
Caffrey was one of the first on the scene at the horrific crash, which killed driver Byron Neil Williams. Williams was intoxicated when his car collided with a tree at an intersection in Hennessey Hill leaving his “legs chopped off” and his head badly bleeding; toxicology reports later found that Williams had been exposed to methamphetamines, amphetamines and marijuana prior to the crash.
As any other emergency service worker would do, Caffrey rushed to the driver’s side, attempting to clear his airway and control his injuries. He told the court he tried to comfort Williams, who was still alive at the time, and told him “don’t give up”. Evidence presented to the court revealed that Williams’ parents, who had been driving around the neighbourhood in search of their son, soon arrived at the scene and Caffrey was forced to juggle tending to the victim and trying to comfort the distraught parents while he waited for the fire brigade and ambulance service to arrive.
Though attending the scene of a serious accident may seem like a usual event emergency service workers should be prepared for given their line of work, the incident took its toll on Caffrey, who took 17 months off work after being diagnosed with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, before later being dismissed after refusing to retire. His life unravelled in the months after the distressing incident and he drank heavily and at times even contemplated suicide.
Due to his terrible state and the loss of his job, Caffrey decided to sue the deceased driver’s insurer for the pain he had endured following the crash. Speaking to Starts at 60 about the long-winded court case, lawyer Trent Johnson, who was not involved in the case, said it wasn’t an easy fight for Coffrey as the insurer argued the public were entitled to expect a police officer deployed to an accident scene would be equipped with sufficient experience and training to avoid psychiatric harm. In other words, a police officer should know how to cope with what they see and experience, a view he suggested perhaps a large number of Australians also share.
Discussing the ins and outs of the case, the Bennett & Philp Lawyers injury compo specialist said what many may not realise is while the state government has measures in place that expect police, ambulance and fire service first responders to be resilient, the law also provides for such people, deemed to be “rescuers”, to have compensation rights if the driver who has caused the accident could be regarded as being liable for it through adverse behaviour such as intoxication, speed or careless driving.
Basically, this means if the driver’s behaviour caused the accident which required others to suffer psychiatric trauma while helping them, then the emergency responder can seek compensation through the driver’s insurer.
In Coffrey’s case, the judge ruled in favour of him, claiming, the court and the public must take into account the fact that police officers are human and not entirely immune to psychiatric injury, even where they use training and detachment techniques. The CTP insurer was ordered to pay Coffrey a total of $1,092,947.
Adding his thoughts to the ruling, Johnson said the decision, while not a precedent setter, was important as it clarifies the law for rescue workers attending traumatic scenes as part of their job.
“By all accounts Mr Caffrey treated the dying driver like his own son,” he told Starts at 60. “So by legal definition he was most certainly a rescuer and thus entitled to claim against the driver’s CTP insurer for the trauma he suffered.
“Naturally the claim was hard fought by the CTP insurer but the court has rightly found that in effect, adopting the role of a rescuer at a horrific crash scene caused by a driver’s blatant negligence is not just something police and others have to accept as part of the job without resource to common law compensation for an associated injury.”