When an accident happens, it is difficult to think of any victim other than the person or persons who were injured, or their loved ones. However, in the recent legal case of Caffrey v AAI Limited [2019] QCS 7, a police officer who arrived at a horrific motor vehicle accident and suffered psychiatric injuries sued the victim’s insurer and was awarded more than one million dollars by the Supreme Court of Queensland.

In February 2013, police officer Mr David Caffrey was the first responder to a gruesome motor vehicle accident. Due to a very unfortunate turn of events, the victim’s parents arrived at the scene and after first assuring them their son would survive, Mr Caffrey had the unimaginable task of advising them their son would not in fact survive.

Shortly after the accident, Mr Caffrey began drinking to excess and suffering from symptoms of depression. He began receiving psychiatric treatment, but continued his work as a police officer.

Around 18 months after the accident, Mr Caffrey was unfortunate enough to arrive at the scene of another particularly horrific motor vehicle accident involving children. He was off duty at the time.

Approximately one month after the accident, it was determined by the Queensland Police that Mr Caffrey was no longer fit to continue his employment as a police officer and he was terminated due to medical incapacity.

Mr Caffrey pursued a claim for damages against AAI Limited, the insurer for the victim of the accident in February 2013, and the matter went to trial in October 2018.

At trial, AAI Limited argued the driver could not have owed Mr Caffrey a duty of care given Mr Caffrey was a police officer (a statutory office) and was attending the accident scene during the exercise of the responsibilities of that office.

The trial Judge rejected that argument, and found that police officers attending accident scenes fall into the recognised category of “rescuers”. On that basis, the victim (who had driven recklessly) was found to have owed a duty of care to Mr Caffrey. The trial Judge accepted the driver had breached the duty of care owed to Mr Caffrey, essentially by driving in such as manner as to crash and cause Mr Caffrey to attend upon the scene.

As to whether Mr Caffrey’s injury was caused by the February 2013 accident or the later accident, the trial Judge noted Mr Caffrey did not become upset when describing the second accident, but was visibly upset to the extent an adjournment was necessary when describing the accident of February 2013.

The court accepted Mr Caffrey’s psychological injuries were predominantly caused by his attendance at the first accident.

The trial Judge described attempts to apportion Mr Caffrey’s psychiatric condition between the two accidents as “unhelpful”, and ultimately discounted damages by 30% (instead of the customary 15%) to reflect the combined impact of the later accident and previous psychiatric conditions Mr Caffrey suffered before the accident.

AAI Limited has filed a Notice of Appeal against the judgement, and will submit to the Court of Appeal that it is against public policy to award damages to a police officer who suffers psychiatric injury attending an accident scene.

“The content of this publication is for reference purposes only. It is current at the date of publication. This content does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be obtained before taking any action based on this publication.”
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