September 27, 2013

A photographer for The Age newspaper assigned to shoot an anniversary pictorial of Australian victims of the October 2012 Bali bombings, suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depression in response to the “heart-wrenching” interviews in which she participated.
In a Supreme Court lawsuit, the journalist – whose identity has been suppressed – claimed to have been “sensitised” to an adverse psychological reaction by earlier work exposure to the crime scene and “first responder” assignments.

The court, however, found her career at The Age had not been entirely “centred on coverage of such traumatic or stressful” events. A “death knock” on one occasion and being assigned to shoot victims “grieving or suffering tragedy” on others – often during night shifts – just wasn’t enough, in the court’s view, to “put a reasonable employer on notice of a risk of psychological sensitisation”.

Falling short on that part of her argument, she nevertheless contended the publisher ought to have invoked preventative measures to screen her for emotional health issues, because of the inherently disturbing features of the Bali assignment itself.

Factors against such a conclusion were that the plaintiff executed her duties without taking the opportunity of opting out, as had some journalists working on the story.

Nor did she engage with the paper’s “culture” that encouraged reports of on-the-job psychological symptoms.

In fact, no mention was made of any condition to anyone including her doctors, until after the second Bali bombing in October 2005, following which she ceased work with The Age. How then – pondered the court – could the newspaper know about “any particular vulnerability” when assigning her to the Bali anniversary job.

Notwithstanding the “very tough” nature of the assignment, the foreseeability of risk of psychiatric injury on the part of her employer was just not made out. And even if periodic psychological screenings and peer support programs had been implemented to guard against the risk of such hazards as the plaintiff contended, no likelihood had been established that such measures would have “prevented or ameliorated her risk of injury”.

Having considered testimony and submissions over 14 sitting days, the journalist’s claim was dismissed.

AZ v The Age [No 1] 2013 VSC 335 Melbourne McMillan J 12 September 2013

Categories: Personal Injury , Litigation & Law Practice

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