The latest industry insights into compensation law.

Police on the frontlines – compensation for victims of violent assaults

Police are responsible for protecting members of the public and are trained to respond to violent acts and to use force where necessary and in the commission of their duties. Recent political discourse has focused on acts of brutality committed by the police. Such discussion is an important part of any democratic society and law enforcement agencies should always ensure that their own objectives properly align with societal expectations.

But let us not forget that, being on the frontline of violent and criminal behaviour, police can and do end up on the receiving end of violence, which can lead to serious physical and psychological injuries.

One does not need to look far for examples. Last month, in New South Wales, a man was charged with bashing a female police officer in the Central Coast. In Victoria, in the middle of battling a second save of COVID-19 infections, a female police officer allegedly had her head bashed into concrete by an ‘anti-masker’ refusing to wear a mask. More recently in our home state of Queensland, on Brisbane’s south side a male police officer was stabbed in the in face, prompting his female colleague to open fire on the alleged assailant.

For members of the police force, violence is a grim reality. Incidents such as these can lead to serious and life changing injuries for the police officers involved and police officers and victims generally should inform themselves of their legal rights to compensation.

Common Law

By common law, we refer to a civil action brought against the assailant and separate to any criminal proceedings. A common law claim seeks compensation for personal injuries sustained and the damages associated with those injuries. It can include but is not limited to claims for pain and suffering, economic loss, care, assistance and services and medical treatment and rehabilitation.

While, at common law, the amounts claimable for victims of assault can be significant, if the injuries are not related to work or a motor vehicle incident (which have more robust insurance schemes), the actual compensation awarded is often very limited. This is due in no small part to most attackers not having sufficient (or any) money to reasonably compensate victims, let alone an insurance policy to indemnify that person for their wrongful actions.

Statutory Worker’s Compensation

For police injured in the course of their duties, a statutory claim can be made through their state or territory’s workers compensation scheme. The Queensland equivalent is WorkCover Queensland, which is governed by the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld) (“WCRA”). Benefits include replacement wages, medical treatment and rehabilitation. Where an injury has led to a permanent impairment, lump sum compensation may also be awarded according to the level of impairment.

Compensation will be payable in Queensland under the WCRA if there is an injury sustained by a worker. However, such requirement is not based on the ordinary meaning of injury. Rather, an injury is specifically defined in the WCRA as personal injury arising out of, or in the course of, employment if the employment is a significant contributing factor to the injury.

If long standing common law principles applied to the WCRA, a police officer would be not considered an employee. This is because they are appointed to the office of constable and are answerable only to the law. That is, they are not the employee or ‘servant’ of anyone.

This technicality in the police’s job description is reconciled by the Police Service Administration Act 1990 (Qld), which, requires the Crown to indemnity an officer or recruit and, if the case requires, their dependants, as if the officer or recruit were a worker covered by a policy under the WCRA.

Victims Assist

Claims can also be made through a state or territory victim assistance scheme. The Queensland equivalent is Victim Assist Queensland, which is governed by the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 2009 (Qld) (“VCAA”).

In Queensland, a victim of an act of violence would be eligible for assistance if they have suffered harm:-

  • because of a crime committed against them; or
  • because they are a family member or dependant of another person who has died or suffered harm because a crime is committed against that person; or
  • as a direct result of intervening to help another person who has died or suffered harm because a crime is committed against that person.

The scope and amount of assistance available is dependent on the type of victim, but can include things such as funeral expenses, medical expenses, counselling, loss of earnings and other reasonable expenses incurred, or other expenses reasonably likely to be incurred by the victim to significantly help the victim recover from the act of violence.

A lump sum payment, referred to as “special assistance”, may also be available to primary victims. The amount payable in special assistance is based on how the act of violence and the circumstances are categorised according to the VCAA.

In cases also involving a worker’s compensation or motor vehicle accident claim, while a victim assistance claim may still be possible, the scope and amount of assistance available may be reduced.

It is important to note that grants of financial assistance, including special assistance are not intended to reflect the level of compensation to which victims of acts of violence may be entitled at common law or otherwise. Rather, the objective of the victim assist scheme is to give victims amounts representing a symbolic expression by the State of the community’s recognition of their suffering.

Life Insurance

For more severe and long-standing injuries, one could also consider accessing their life insurance benefits attached to their superannuation fund in the form of income protection or total and permanent disablement (“TPD”) insurance.

Police and members of the public alike should seek legal advice from an experienced legal practitioner. vbr Workers’ Compensation Lawyers are highly specialised in personal injury and TPD matters and can assist with ensuring your rights are protected.

Ray is an Associate who works in the Brisbane office of vbr Lawyers with Greg Black. Ray successfully completed a Bachelor of Business and Bachelor of Laws and also his Practical Legal Training at QUT.
Greg is widely regarded as one of Australia’s leading compensation law experts. Greg has a very healthy practice and enjoys providing his clients with superior personal service in every case. Greg is absolutely committed to achieving the best settlement outcomes for his clients while keeping the legal costs down.

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State updated!
Your state has been updated to QLD. Practice areas on compensation law have been updated.