Caffrey v AAI Limited [2019] QSC 7

On 17 February 2013 at about 7:00pm, the late Byron Williams was speeding and intoxicated with amphetamines and cannabis when his car smashed into a tree.

Former senior constable David Paul Caffrey, who worked as a full time member of the Queensland Police Service, attended the wreckage and attempted to keep the driver alive with first aid and encouragement. However, the driver would be unable to survive, as the policeman would lead the driver’s parents to farewell their son shortly before his death at the scene.

The policeman, aged 50 years, developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and significant psychological injuries following the accident. He was suicidal and at times contemplated obtaining a firearm and shooting certain police officers and then himself.

He underwent a 17-month absence from work before his psychologist advised the QPS that he would be incapable of performing duties as a frontline police officer.

Mr Caffrey consequently sued the insurance company of the driver, AAI Limited, for negligence.

In the Supreme Court of Queensland before Justice Flanagan, the primary issue concerning liability was whether a driver’s duty of care extends to taking reasonable steps to prevent the psychiatric harm of police officers (Caffrey v AAI Limited [2019] QSC 7, 4).

The defendant’s lawyers also argued that police officers, as professionals, are to be more equipped to “handle” such scenes and avoid pure psychiatric harm.

Flanagan J found in favour of the plaintiff. His Honour stated:

A member of the public, like Mr Williams, is not entitled to drive in any manner he wishes, without regard to police officers who may attend at an accident he may cause, simply because police officers “undertake for the benefit of the public” to attend at such scenes.

Caffrey v AAI Limited [2019] QSC 7, 39.

The awarded damages totalled over $1 million; including $318,262 for past economic loss and $469,490 for future loss of earning capacity. The case, which extends the scope of a driver’s duty of care, is the first of its kind in Queensland.

It is well known that those suffering from PTSD find it difficult to claim compensation, as it can often be a secondary injury and difficult to diagnose.

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