Former police officer awarded $1.4 million following NSW Police’s failure to implement system for detecting and addressing psychological injury

Aug 24, 2023 | Publication

A former general duties officer with the New South Wales Police Force (NSW Police), alleged that in her service as a police officer between May 2003 and June 2012, she was exposed to numerous traumatic incidents, and as a result suffered a psychological and/or psychiatric injury.

The plaintiff sued the State in the District Court, pursuant to section 5 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1988. The plaintiff sought damages, pleading that the State owed her a non-delegable duty of care to avoid exposing her to a foreseeable risk of injury, including the risk of psychiatric or psychological harm.

It had been found that a police medical officer and police psychologist had recommended counselling and other assistance but at first instance it was found not unreasonable for NSW Police to do nothing. To allow for the possibility of a successful appeal, his Honour assessed damages at $1,405,000.

The plaintiff appealed from the verdict against her. The issue was not the adequacy of the system but rather whether it was properly implemented. NSW Police knew she was suffering PTSD and that placing her on general duties was likely to make it worse. There was a breach of duty and no contributory negligence. The appeal was upheld.

The Court ruled that the NSW Police were aware that the plaintiff was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and that placing her on general duties was likely to expose her to further traumatic incidents. The plaintiff went on to see three burnt bodies, “a suicide where a guy burnt himself in a car” and one “where a little 3-yr-old boy and a fireman died”. These images recurred frequently in nightmares and flashbacks for the plaintiff.

The decision of Sills v State of NSW  NSWCA 4 can be read in full here: https://www.caselaw.nsw.gov.au/decision/5c57b484e4b02a5a800be3ab

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