Posted on 12 Dec 2018
A traumatised police officer’s seven-year ordeal at the hands of her insurer, MetLife, is over after the NSW Court of Appeal today dismissed the insurance giant’s appeal.
Policewoman Bernadette Hellessey was awarded compensation last September after it was revealed MetLife employed tactics such as surveillance and allegedly setting up fake Facebook accounts to monitor her online activity, and ignored reports from her treating psychiatrist in order to deny her claim.
Justice Robb at the time said MetLife’s lack of consideration of her psychiatric condition was “a serious cause for concern”.
However MetLife dug in, serving her lawyers at Slater and Gordon with an appeal on the Friday before Christmas last year.
Today, Justice Meagher dismissed that appeal in a judgement that also requires the insurer to pay costs. Ms Hellessey has been unable to work since 2010 after she was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression.
During her service, Ms Hellessey encountered dead infants, gruesome car crash victims, violent crime scenes and also experienced the death of her highway patrol partner who was killed by a drunk and unlicensed driver.
But the most traumatic and noticeable incident occurred at the hands of a coworker who came up behind her when she was at her desk and removed her service weapon from its holster.
In her affidavit she described how she cowered and covered herself as he gradually emptied the magazine by throwing bullets at her.
“I thought I was going to die – I was terrified,” Bernadette said in her statement.
“I was fearful the gun was going to be discharged,” she said.
“He then stripped the pistol and put all the parts in a pile on the floor. After he left the room, I sat there with my head in my hands thinking what just happened.”
Slater and Gordon Senior Lawyer Sarah Snowden said Ms Hellessey’s trauma was further compounded by her seven-year battle with the insurer.
“Their behaviour, frankly, has been reprehensible and has put Bernadette through hell,” Ms Snowden said.
“Unfortunately it is consistent with behaviour we see time and again from insurers.
“Total and permanent disability claims are already complex but insurers treat psychiatric claims differently to physical injury claims.
“There is a level of stigma and suspicion of claimants with psychiatric injuries and the impact of a psychiatric injury on someone’s ability to return to work should not be discounted because the insurer determines that they ‘look fine’ or try to participate at some menial level in social activity.”
Ms Snowden said she was ‘over the moon’ for her client and relieved that Ms Hellessey can put this ordeal behind her.
“I really hope that today’s decision can bring Bernadette some relief and she can enjoy Christmas with her family knowing that this part of her ordeal is over.”