Court rules flight nurse’s PTSD had ‘physical cause’

The New South Wales Supreme Court has found in favour of Karen Casey, a flight nurse who sued Pel-Air for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which she developed after an air ambulance plane crash in 2009.

The New South Wales Supreme Court has found in favour of Karen Casey, a flight nurse who sued Pel-Air for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which she developed after an air ambulance plane crash in 2009. The case is being hailed as a landmark ruling, as the Court has determined that Casey’s PTSD is ‘a bodily injury’ compensable under Article 17 of the Montreal Convention and the Civil Aviation (Carriers Liability) Act. Judge Monika Schmidt’s ruling states that the condition is ‘not merely the result of an injury to her mind, caused by the shock, fear and other emotional trauma caused by the crash’, but that, on the balance of probabilities, her PTSD ‘also involves an injury to her brain and other parts of her body involved in normal brain function’.

Pel-Air had conceded that Casey’s major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder and pain disorder were caused by her physical injuries and so were compensable under the Civil Aviation (Carriers Liability) Act. However, the company told the court the PTSD was a psychiatric disorder that had been caused by the trauma that Casey experienced during the crash. It was not, argued the company, a ‘bodily injury’ falling within Article 17 of the Montreal Convention and therefore did not qualify Casey for compensation under Pt IA of the Civil Aviation (Carriers Liability) Act. However, the court did not accept this argument.

In November 2009, CareFlight (NSW) Limited sent Casey and Dr David Helm from Sydney to help transport a seriously ill patient and her husband from Samoa to Melbourne. The plane was operated by Pel-Air Aviation Pty Ltd. On the flight to Melbourne, the plane was scheduled to land at Norfolk Island to refuel but crashed into the sea during that leg of the flight. Both the medical crew members were seriously injured. They escaped the wreckage, but were not pulled from the water until over an hour later.

Read the full judgment here.