The psychiatric impact of traumatic workplace incidents can often be far worse than the physical injuries suffered. In a case on point, a prison guard whose mental health suffered severely after an inmate hit him in the face with a broom was awarded more than £200,000 in compensation.
The officer sustained a swollen eye, cuts to his face and an injury to his hand when the prisoner, who was serving an indefinite sentence and was said to be dangerous and disruptive, lashed out at him. Two other officers were also injured in the incident. He made a good recovery from his physical injuries but remained subject to flashbacks, panic attacks and nightmares.
A normally robust former soldier, he testified that he was surprised and shocked by the devastating nature of his psychiatric reaction to an incident that he had not viewed as particularly serious at the time. Despite counselling, he was unable to return to work and his employment was terminated on medical grounds.
After he launched legal proceedings, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) admitted liability on the basis that another prison officer had triggered the incident by using his baton against the inmate in a manner that amounted to an unlawful use of force. That officer had subsequently been dismissed for gross misconduct. The MoJ, however, disputed the value of the injured officer's claim.
In awarding him a total of £211,000 in damages, a judge found that he was stricken by post-traumatic stress disorder for two years after the incident, which effectively ended his career. He was for a time wary of leaving his home and felt that he was becoming a recluse. Although he has since found alternative employment, he is only capable of working in non-confrontational environments where there is no threat to his physical wellbeing.