A former Age crime and courts reporter has won $180,000 in damages from the newspaper in a world-first court settlement after suffering psychological injuries from covering some of Victoria's most serious and gruesome crimes. In a scathing judgement, the Victorian County Court found that The Age failed in its duty of care for the journalist as she was repeatedly exposed to trauma and increasingly showing signs of psychological injury.
The journalist, who was not named in the judgement, worked at The Age between 2003 and 2013, reporting on the crime round during the gangland wars, winning awards for her work, but during a period where redundancies at the paper were regular. During the trial, she told the court she attended 32 murder scenes, and after a stint on the sports desk was moved to the Supreme Court round where she reported on cases including murders and crimes against children with graphic evidence presented in court. She also received phone calls from people threatening suicide during that period.
Her lawyer Bree Knoester, partner at Adviceline Injury Lawyers, told Crikey she had been working on litigation of this kind since 2010 in an attempt to get media companies to accept their responsibility for journalists exposed to trauma as part of their day-to-day job. "I've worked with reporters in this area all around the world, so to have this judgement that sets out what we've been saying for many years is an endorsement of that message," she said. Knoester, who does work with the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma, said this was the first successful court action of its kind in the world.