Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects around 1 million Australians in any one year, and 12 per cent of Australians will experience PTSD in their lifetime. PTSD is a particular set of reactions that can develop in people who have been through a traumatic event. Anyone can develop PTSD following a traumatic event, but certain people may be at a greater risk if the event involved deliberate harm or they have had repeated traumatic experiences.

Many people in their line of work develop PTSD, such as paramedics, fire fighters, police officers, and army personnel (particularly those deployed to war zones) just to name a few. Recently, former paramedic Chris Mawson spoke to ABC News about his experience battling PTSD and believes PTSD has become a real epidemic amongst emergency service workers. In this article we look at when a claim may be successful for a work related PTSD injury and in what other situations PTSD may be relevant to a personal injury claim.

So what are the signs and symptoms of PTSD?
People with PTSD often experience feelings of panic or extreme fear, similar to the fear they felt during the traumatic event. A person with PTSD experiences four main types of difficulties, these being:
  • Re-living the traumatic event – The person relives the event through unwanted and recurring memories, often in the form of vivid images and nightmares. There may be intense emotional or physical reactions, such as sweating, heart palpitations or panic when reminded of the event.
  • Being overly alert or wound up – The person experiences sleeping difficulties, irritability and lack of concentration, becoming easily startled and constantly on the lookout for signs of danger.
  • Avoiding reminders of the event – The person deliberately avoids activities, places, people, thoughts or feelings associated with the event because they bring back painful memories.
  • Feeling emotionally numb – The person loses interest in day-to-day activities, feels cut off and detached from friends and family, or feels emotionally flat and numb.
People with PTSD may also experience other mental health problems at the same time, either in response to the traumatic event or after the fact. These additional problems may include:
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Alcohol or drug use
Emergency services personnel are particularly susceptible to PTSD in the workplace due to the countless number of traumatic events they attend. Suicide rates amongst these personnel are also on the increase with new figures revealing that between July 2000 and December 2012 one police officer, paramedic, or fire fighter took their life every six weeks.

So can you bring a claim against your employer for the workplace PTSD you suffered as a result of attending traumatic events?
An employer owes a duty of care to its employee. The employer must take reasonable care to avoid foreseeable risk of injury to their employees.

To be successful in common law claim against your employer you must prove that your injury, whether psychiatric or otherwise, was a result of your employer’s negligence i.e. your employer failed to take certain steps to minimise your exposure to injury and by not doing so it was reasonably foreseeable to them that you will suffer injury.

Employers have the obligation to care for the mental health of their employees. Employers of emergency service personnel should not only have in place systems to recognise signs of workplace stress and dysfunction in their employees but also programs that assist employees having difficulties dealing the traumatic events to which they are exposed. Importantly, employers should not only ensure that these systems are in place, but also that they are implemented properly and utilised effectively. By doing so they minimise their exposure to a claim for failing to discharge their obligations to care for the mental health of their employees.

PTSD not only affects people resultant of their occupation but quite often in our line of work we see people suffering PTSD following a car accident they were involved in. Serious accidents are one of the leading causes of PTSD in Australia.
While under Queensland law you are only able to claim general damages for your dominant injury (i.e. the injury that has left you with the highest percentage of permanent impairment), in deciding your Injury Scale Value (that then corresponds to your award for general damages) the Court will take into consideration what other injuries you have suffered and the effects that these injuries have had, and will continue to have, on your life.

So therefore if you have developed PTSD secondary to a car accident then this will be taken into consideration when deciding what overall ISV is applicable to your claim.

While PTSD in the workplace is definitely on the rise, particularly within the emergency services, what your employer has failed to implement will form the basis of any claim for such an injury. Suffering from PTSD as a result of other accidents, such a car accident, is also something that can affect the overall award of damages you may receive.

If you have been involved in a traumatic event and feel very distressed we strongly encourage you to talk to a doctor or health professional. You can obtain further information regarding PTSD from Beyond Blue via www.beyondblue.org.au

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