It is well established that someone who has been physically injured through the fault of someone else can make a claim for compensation, eg the victim who suffers a whiplash injury through the actions of a negligent motorist.
It is not so straight forward if someone suffers a psychological injury through the negligence or breach of duty of another.
Ann Summerling acted for a client who was employed by a Police Authority as a civilian member of staff. She was taken out by police officers as a ‘ride along’ to gain experience of day to day routine police work.
As part of their duties on the day, the police officers had to attend a ‘sudden death’ incident where someone had committed suicide by hanging. Ann’s client went into the house and witnessed the person hanging, and was asked to help handle the deceased’s body and search the property for a suicide note and other evidence.
She was not given any training prior to this incident and did not receive any de briefing or support afterwards. This was despite the fact that police officers are given training before attending ‘sudden death’ incidents.
At first the client did not seem to be too badly affected by what she had seen, although she was initially shocked. However, over the following weeks and months she started getting panic attacks and symptoms of anxiety, depression and flashbacks of the incident.
She was normally a happy and positive person and living in a secure and stable relationship with a supportive partner, and she could not understand why she was feeling like she did. She did not initially connect it to the incident at work.
Her GP and Occupational Health Department diagnosed her as suffering from PTSD as a consequence of what she had witnessed at work and she was given antidepressants and underwent a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy treatment. She had several months off work and when she returned, certain things would crop up which would remind her of the incident. Eventually she left the police force as the work was a constant reminder of what had happened and was affecting her ability to recover.
Despite an apology from the Chief Inspector, an acknowledgement that the client should not have been present at the scene of the hanging and an assurance that lessons would be learned, liability was denied by the Police Authority.
Ann persevered with the claim and was successful in achieving an agreed compensation in the sum of £20,000.00 for the psychological injuries and cost of future counselling treatment, enabling her client to put the distressing incident behind her and move on with her life.