Melanie Digby worked at the Compass Institute as a support worker. The Institute provided disability services to clients between the age of 18 to 25. The main aim of its programme was to teach the clients life skills, moving them from a classroom situation to being more independent.
As part of that programme it organised a police officer to attend to provide a demonstration about ‘stranger danger’. Part of the presentation involved activating the lights and sirens of a marked police car.
The Institute knew that some of its clients were vulnerable to loud noises, to the point of requiring earmuffs when out on the street. One client, Mr Thrupp, was particularly sensitive to loud noises and could have “episodes” or seizures from anything from the level of shutting of a cupboard door loudly.
During the presentation to police officer operated the lights and sirens. Mr Thrupp reacted poorly to that and began to fall forward towards a concrete step. He was bent at the hips. Ms Digby, who was located nearby, reacted by attempting to catch him with her left hand. She missed him. She then managed to grab his t-shirt with her right hand and then hooked him around his stomach area to prevent him falling. She took the force of his weight in doing so. As a result of that Ms Digby suffered an injury to her shoulder.
She subsequently developed a constant tremor in her right hand and arm, along with severe pain in her right upper body and a psychiatric injury. She was unable to return to the workforce thereafter.
Ms Digby brought an injury compensation claim against both her employer (the Institute) and the Police Service.
The matter could not be settled and came before the Supreme Court.
Ms Digby alleged the employer had failed to provide a safe system of work for her. She argued the police service had been negligent for failing to give a warning prior to activating the police siren.
The court heard evidence from a large number of witnesses who were in attendance at the police officer’s presentation. There were conflicting versions not only as to what occurred but also what steps had been taken to consider the needs of the disabled and vulnerable clients before the presentation took place.
The court ultimately found that the employer failed to thoroughly brief its staff. It was held there was insufficient planning by the staff as to precisely what to do once the warning to activate the siren was given. The court favoured the evidence of the police officer and accepted he had given a warning before activating the siren.
The employer was found to be negligent but the court could find wrong-doing on th part of the police officer (the case against him was dismissed).
Ms Digby was a heavy Facebook user, spending a couple of hours a day sending messages to friends (and on two days a week at least 4-5 hours doing so). The Facebook posts formed part of the evidence at the trial. Those posts revealed not only a strong social networking with friends but also pointed to other psychological events in her life. Neither of these facts had been fully revealed to the examining psychiatric specialists. They changed their opinions after learning of that. There was also covert video surveillance taken of Ms Digby. Each of these matters were considered by the court in making adverse credit findings against Ms Digby.
She was ultimately awarded $158,000 in compensation, payable by the employer.
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For more details read the full version of the court judgment: