Solicitor seeks High Court’s favour over work-related psychiatric injury

The solicitor says the State of Victoria’s failure to maintain a safe workplace resulted in trauma

Solicitor seeks High Court’s favour over work-related psychiatric injury

A solicitor who sued the State of Victoria for a psychiatric injury allegedly caused by her workplace has appealed her accident compensation case before the High Court.

Zagi Kozarov’s appeal called for a ruling made by the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria (CA) to be set aside. The court had judged that the state could not have foreseen the risks that the employee would sustain such an injury, and that the solicitor failed to establish the state’s negligence.

Kozarov was formerly employed by the Victorian Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP), working in the specialist sexual offences unit (SSOU). She was constantly inundated with material of a graphic sexual nature, including child pornography, and said that “there was not a day” that she wasn’t exposed to graphic images of rapes or assaults on children.

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She had to watch explicit child pornography repeatedly to shed light on patterns of behaviour, fetishes or the age group that offenders were targeting. She submitted that the work exposed her “to cumulative trauma and the risk of mental harm, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”

Kozarov said that while employed in the OPP, she suffered chronic PTSD and major depressive disorder.

In October 2016, she sued the State of Victoria for damages based on negligence, breach of contract and breach of statutory duty. She alleged that her work caused the injuries due to the “ongoing, repeated exposure to a high volume of sexual offence cases, which included the commission of serious offences against children and other cases of an abhorrent nature.”

The state denied liability and alleged contributory negligence. The trial judge upheld Kozarov’s claim and rejected the state’s defence, finding that “if action had been taken to reduce [Kozarov’s] exposure to vicarious trauma she would not have suffered PTSD of the same severity and chronicity.”

However, the CA overturned the trial judge’s decision, basing its reasoning on behaviour exhibited by Kozarov that seemed to contradict her claims. It noted an instance where “she had reacted strongly against the suggestion that she was not then coping with the workload at SSOU.”

The CA also cited an email written by Kozarov in which she said, “I want to make it clear that I am passionate about continuing my work in the sexual offences unit and I don’t want to leave the unit.” She had sought a promotion, and eventually signed a contract for a permanent position.

Kozarov submitted before the High Court that the CA was wrong to reverse the trial judge’s decision, saying that the CA’s ruling failed to consider the employer’s duty of care which meant that it should have taken “positive steps to reduce exposure triggers to PTSD.”

The High Court has yet to decide on the appeal.

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