When Victorian schoolteacher Peter Doulis was awarded nearly $1.3m in damages in September, the story attracted star billing in the media. You could almost hear the collective sucking in of breath at the size of the amount awarded by the Supreme Court.
The teacher suffered severe and chronic depression as a result of having to control unruly, and what some witnesses described as “feral” classes.
The case coincides with a recently released WorkCover report on which we commented last week, revealing a dramatic rise in psychological injury and stress claims such as depression and trauma.
While the Doulis figure appears high, it helps to understand how it was calculated.
First, a large part of Mr. Doulis’ award of damages was due to loss of income. He was still relatively young when he stopped working in 2004 at the age of 38. He had wanted to teach until 67, so his career was cut short by almost 29 years.
Here is how the court calculated damages:
Pain and suffering
- Prior to his injury, Mr. Doulis was described as an active, outdoor, bubbly person. He is now just a shadow of his former self, suffering suicidal thoughts and a severe psychological trauma. The court awarded him $300,000 for pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.
Past loss of income
- Except for brief, unsuccessful attempts in 2005 and 2006, Mr. Doulis had not been able to work since 2004 because of injury. He was awarded $429,751 for his past loss of income, which includes superannuation, interest and taxation adjustments.
Future loss of income
- The court agreed with the teacher’s doctors who said it was highly unlikely he would return the workforce. From the date of the hearing until retirement, Mr. Doulis may have earned $846,154. However, the Court reduced this figure by 35% for the ‘risks and uncertainties of life’ and he was awarded $550,000.
The case is also unique in that Mr. Doulis was given a comparatively high number of unruly classes to teach, and when he complained to the school authorities that he couldn’t continue teaching in this manner, he was ignored. The school ought to have known that he was at risk of suffering psychological injury.
While teacher stress claims, along with mental injury claims generally, are seemingly on the rise, the average amount of damages awarded is typically nowhere near as large as this. It is entirely dependent on the individual circumstances of the injured worker.