High level damages for psych injury arising from violent robbery

The Supreme Court of Victoria awarded over $600,000 in damages to a worker who had been severely traumatised by a violent robbery at the service station where she was employed.

The employer admitted negligence, and the case was concerned with the appropriate level of damages.


The service station manager suffered severe psychological injury as a result of the armed robbery in which shots were fired and the robber screamed at her. The sight of gun and the horror mask worn by the robber terrified her. She had persistent nightmares.

The worker has not worked since the incident and was treated by several doctors for her psychological condition until WorkCover stopped paying her medical bills.

She suffered panic attacks and uncontrollable crying and had trouble focusing on tasks.

Before Justice Beach in the Supreme Court of Victoria, the worker sought damages for the severe mental and behavioural disturbances that she suffered as a result of the robbery.

Medical opinion favoured worker

The court accepted the worker’s (plaintiff’s) case:
‘The opinions of the plaintiff’s treating doctors have been formed over the years after considerable numbers of consultations. The difficulty for the defendant is that its experts have, by comparison, seen the plaintiff on very few occasions.

Further, much of the opinion evidence is dependent upon what the individual treater or examiner makes of the plaintiff. That is, whether the doctor accepts the plaintiff’s account or whether the doctor is sceptical for one reason or another.

Having seen the plaintiff give evidence over the days she was in the witness box I formed the view (for the reasons already given) that her evidence should largely be accepted.’

The following damages were awarded:
(a) The plaintiff’s pain and suffering damages assessed at $200,000.

(b) The plaintiff’s pecuniary loss damages assessed at $418,500.
On damages for pain and suffering the court noted:
‘The effects of the injuries the plaintiff sustained as a result of the robbery have been severe over the last nine and a half years.

She has suffered from the condition and symptoms which I have already described. Her suffering has been severe. While a theme of the defendant’s submissions appeared to be that the consequences of the plaintiff’s injuries were not severe, in my view they have had a major and dramatic effect on almost all aspects of the plaintiff’s life. As her granddaughter (Jade MacKenzie) described it, prior to the robbery the plaintiff was “awesome and fun and always there emotionally”. Whereas, following the robbery the plaintiff never got back to being the “fun nan” that she had been.

I accept, as a fair description of the effects of the robbery, the plaintiff’s evidence “I don’t have a life. I don’t want to go anywhere. I don’t want to go out of the house” …

The defendant submitted that an appropriate allowance for pain and suffering damages was $70,000. The plaintiff submitted that an appropriate allowance was $325,000. In my view the range is $180,000 to $220,000. In the circumstances I propose to award $200,000 ….’
Norris v Brumar (Victoria) Pty Ltd (No 2) [2009] VSC 218 (9 June 2009)