Written by Peter CarterJanuary 9, 2014
A repossession agent has sued a CTP insurer for injuries sustained during the recovery of a rental fridge as hostility escalated from verbal abuse to smashing the repo truck’s windscreen with a brick.
Radio Rentals manager in Mackay, Noel Jackson called on renter Reay to discuss payments. Their discussions that also included Reay’s companion Peter Bishop, became heated but Reay told Jackson he should take the fridge away.
He moved his truck into a position to load the appliance when Bishop let air out of its tyres. Jackson responded by moving the truck over to partly block the driveway. The pair then retaliated by getting into their car and “revving the engine loudly”.
Bishop suddenly reversed the vehicle down the driveway “at speed” and rammed into the front of the repo truck. Before trying to force their way inside, Bishop – armed with a brick – smashed the truck’s windscreen.
Police action against Bishop followed.
Jackson sustained a whiplash injury from the impact. More serious though, was his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which was usefully explained by one of the forensic experts in the District Court trial as a “condition which arises in response to a person being involved in or witnessing a traumatic event or incident where they felt at risk of life or limb”.
Apart from suing Bishop personally – a course which would most likely have been economically futile – Jackson’s only potential source of injury compensation was as against the CTP insurer of the vehicle they used to ram the truck.
The insurer, Suncorp, accepted liability for the consequences of the whiplash but argued that the PTSD had resulted from the abuse threats and assaults rather than the “driving of” Bishop’s car. On that basis, it disclaimed responsibility for that portion of Jackson’s claim.
Its position was backed by an opinion from forensic psychiatrist Catherine Oelrichs who opined that the PTSD was entirely referable to everything other than the ramming incident. But the doctor “struggled to explain how she formed such opinion” given evidence that Jackson was resolute that he started fearing for his life as Bishop revved the engine menacingly and accelerated towards and smashed into him.
Subsequently, she resiled from that view to agreeing with Townsville colleague Michael Likely, engaged by Jackson, that it would be artificial to attribute to separate percentages of causation to particular elements of the November 2010 event.
Still not satisfied, Suncorp also contended that it should escape liability for the PTSD altogether unless the “driving” was found to have been its “sole cause”. Not so, said the court: “A finding that the events before and after the driving and collision might be an additional cause of the PTSD, would not mean that causation has not been established.”
The correct test to be applied was whether Bishop’s driving and the collision was “in a common-sense way, a cause of the PTSD”, regardless that it may have has multiple origins.
Damages were assessed at $144k.