Dead driver owes police officer duty

Date: February 12, 2019


Caffrey v AAI Limited [2019] QSC 7.


Key Point:


The plaintiff was a police officer who developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after attending the scene of a single vehicle motor vehicle accident. The driver had suffered eventually fatal injuries but was still alive when the plaintiff attended. He took steps to maximise the driver’s chances of survival by:

After the paramedics arrived, the plaintiff was informed that the driver was going to pass away. He informed the driver’s parents and took the driver’s parents to say goodbye.

Duty of Care:

The Civil Liability Act 2003 (Qld) did not apply because the incident occurred in the course of the plaintiff’s employment. Common law principles therefore applied to determine all issues including if the driver owed the plaintiff a duty of care.

The Court accepted the defendant’s submission that the determination of whether there was a duty of care must extend “beyond a question as to whether or not there was a foreseeable risk of injury.”

 The Court applied the principles from the leading High Court case of Wicks v State Rail Authority (NSW)[1] where several police officers attended the scene of a deadly train derailment near Waterfall Station and suffered from psychiatric injuries. In that case, the High Court found that depending on the sights a police officer might see, sounds they might hear, tasks they might have to undertake, in combination, cause them to develop a psychiatric illness, a duty may be owed.

The Court found:

The defendant made submissions to distinguish this case from Jausnik v Nominal Defendant (No 5)[2] which held that a defendant driver who hit another vehicle and caused casualties should have foreseen a police officer attending the scene might suffer a psychiatric injury as a result. However, the Court rejected these submissions and found:

The Court found with respect to the defendant’s submissions that the claim should be denied on policy considerations:

The Court found the driver owed the plaintiff a duty of care.


The plaintiff was involved in a second incident, in which he attended another single vehicle motor vehicle accident with multiple fatalities. The plaintiff gave evidence that the first incident was worse than the second. Based on the expert evidence, the Court found that the second incident simply was an aggravation of the plaintiff’s pre-existing PTSD.

The Court also found that the plaintiff had a pre-existing vulnerability to developing symptoms of PTSD because of “the typical stressors involved in attending to the usual duties of a police officer” and applied a 30% discount on damages.  The Court awarded the plaintiff $1,092,947.88.


Under the common law a negligent driver who causes an accident owes a duty of care to police officers who attend the accident scene for pure psychiatric injury.

Police officers place themselves in situations of ‘elevated risk’ with respect to psychiatric injuries because they are legally obliged to respond to emergencies.

In our view, the result of this case is not entirely surprising. It represents yet another incremental easing of the difficulties historically faced by claimant’s suffering from pure psychiatric injuries.




Josiah Lee
Direct: +61 (0) 7 3307 5506


Chris Murphy
Direct: +61 (0) 7 3307 5504

Download PDF here:  Caffrey v AAI Limited 

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