Published 29 Sep 2015
A woman who claimed she had developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to her career as a police officer has been awarded nearly $1 million.
The plaintiff argued that her PTSD prevented her from working again and thus constituted a total and permanent disability (TPD). However, her insurer rejected her claim for benefits on two separate occasions, leading her to pursue payment through the courts.
According to NSW Supreme Court documents, the woman was exposed to a number of traumatic experiences while performing her duties. These included fatal car accidents, suicides and the deaths of young children and babies.
After 11 years on the job, the plaintiff alleged she began feeling nauseous when driving to work and struggled to sleep. Over the next four years, she developed a number of additional symptoms, such as uncontrollable crying, anxiousness, muscle tension and breathing difficulties, among others.
She was referred to a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with chronic adjustment disorder, depression and elements of PTSD. Despite attending a mental health program to ease her distress, the woman's condition continued to deteriorate, resulting in her doctor signing her permanently off work.
However, her original TPD claim was turned down after independent assessments of her condition were carried out. She asked for a review of the decision, but her superannuation policy's insurer maintained its previous stance.
Plaintiff wins in court
The insurer relied on doctor's assessments that suggested the woman may eventually return to the workplace, although it was unlikely that she would continue in her previous role.
The company also said her relatively young age and supporting video evidence showed there was a significant chance the plaintiff would be able to work in the future.
Justice Michael Ball disagreed with the organisation's ruling, stating that the materials upon which the insurer relied were insufficient to reject a TPD claim.
"At the time that [the plaintiff] ceased work, there can be no question that she suffered from severe stress," he explained.
"There is some dispute concerning her precise diagnosis, but it seems clear that it included elements of PTSD, anxiety and depression. No one suggests that she is or will ever be capable of returning to work as a police officer."
The woman was therefore awarded $765,765 through one of her insurance policies and an additional $170,100 under the other for a total of $935,865. A decision on who will foot the costs of legal proceedings was set for another date.