In Hegarty v Queensland Ambulance Service, a decision of the Supreme Court of Queensland handed down on 20 April 2007, a former operational ambulance officer was awarded compensation for psychiatric injury sustained during the course of his employment.
Mr Hegarty’s action was based in negligence, breach of contract and breach of statutory duty. Mr Hergarty succeeded in his action and was awarded $569,635 in personal injury compensation.
Mr Hegarty had worked as an operational ambulance officer for fifteen years.
In the course of that employment he was exposed to numerous traumatic events.
As a result Mr Hegarty developed post traumatic stress disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.
Judge Wilson confirmed that an employer has a duty of care to an employee in respect of reasonably foreseeable psychiatric injury.
Judge Wilson held that it was reasonably foreseeable that someone in Mr Hegarty’s position could be exposed to the risk of psychiatric injury.
Judge Wilson held that the Queensland Ambulance Service was negligent in that it had failed to appropriately train Mr Hegaty’s supervisors in respect of recognising when employees such as Mr Hegarty may be suffering from symptoms indicating the possible development of psychiatric injury and to ensure early intervention.
Mr Hegarty had complained to his supervisors regarding concerns he had in respect of the affect his position was having on him. However, Mr Hergarty was not referred to appropriate professional treatment and evaluation.
Mr Hegarty was awarded personal injury compensation relating to pain and suffering, out of pocket expenses and past and future economic loss resulting from the negligence of his employer, the Queensland Ambulance Service.
The case is an important reminder to workers in the emergency services or in employment such as the police force to obtain early legal advice if they have suffered psychiatric injury in the course of their employment.