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Tort - Rescue Workers I

Updated on August 7, 2017

There are a few classes of people that should be able to claim for physcological illnesses despite agreeing to accept the risk, especially rescue workers and those who work in disaster relief. This includes members of the emergency services like the police and the fire brigade and it also includes those who serve in voluntary organizations like the Red Cross.

The type of disasters that we are looking at includes rail disasters and natural disasters like earthquakes. The damage that is done and scenes of the aftermath are often so horrific that it is fair to say that a person of reasonable fortitude can go into shock that results in some type of permanent damage as a result of being exposed to the aftermath of these accidents or natural disasters.

The situation is a bit more complicated when it comes to natural disasters and voluntary organizations. If an aid work turns around and brings a claim against the Red Cross for exposing him or her to scenes that are so horrific that he or she could not continue working anymore or could not sleep at nights, these symptoms are the natural result of being exposed to horrific scenes, soldiers who have been in combat suffer from similar after effects, can the Red Cross turn around and plead volenti?

They probably could because any aid or relief worker that signs up with the Red Cross knows that there is a possibility that he or she may be put in a situation where the person is going to be exposed to extremely horrific scenes, scenes so horrible that the footage isn’t even allowed on TV.

Then again it is also a question of the type of risk that the aid or relief worker has accepted to be subjected to. He or she may have agreed to remove a dead body from a home but that does not however mean that the same aid or relief worker has agreed to remove a mangled corpse that has been crushed by a fallen building. Overall however it might probably be easier to work out some sort of compensation scheme for aid and relief workers who have suffered from some type of physcological illness as a result of being exposed to horrific scenes than to allow law suits because the respective aid organization may be reluctant to help the next time there is a natural disaster.

The next category of people who may be able to claim for physcological illnesses or nervous shock are members of the emergency services i.e. the police, the fire-brigade etc. Employers are generally under a duty not to put their employees in a situation where they’d likely suffer from some form or physical injury or physcological illness and while the employer may argue that the employee agreed to accepting such risks when he or she signed up to join the emergency services its once again a question of how much risk did the employee sign up for or how much risk did they agree to accept when they signed up with the emergency services.

Let us look at the example of the local police or the fire brigade in a quaint little picturesque town in the middle of nowhere. Most of them were born in the town and the hardest thing that they’ve had to do in their careers is to break-up a football fight between rival supporters or put out a small fire. Regardless of the training that they have been given they are definitely not catered or tailored for disaster relief.

There is a railway station in the town and trains stop over at regular intervals to ferry passengers from one destination to another. In the two hundred years that the trains have been running in the town there hasn’t been a single unwanted incident then suddenly out of the blue there is a serious accident. Two trains have crashed into each other just three kilometers out of town and members of the local constabulary and the local fire brigade are summoned to help and assist with the rescue operations.

They are the first to arrive on the scene and the aftermath of such an accident would be, to put it mildly, horrific, and the chances are high that they would suffer from some form of nervous shock or the other. To say otherwise would just not be practical. Are they entitled to be compensated?

Lastly we also have members of the media, people who work for the press and those who work for television stations, who are normally rushed to cover these incidents, the same people that bring us all the vivid and real time footage that we watch on television. Are they entitled to be compensated for the risk of being exposed to the aftermath of these accidents? Chances are high that they too may suffer by some form of physcological illness as a result of witnessing the aftermath of these accidents and natural disasters.

© 2017 Kathiresan Ramachanderam and Dyarne Jessica Ward

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