Wollongong policeman wins worker’s compensation case

The NSW Police Force has failed in its legal bid to strip an ex-Wollongong police officer of $80,000 in worker’s compensation allowances paid to him since he took stress leave two years ago.

Darryl Laurence Hahn had been a serving police officer for almost 11 years when he took long-term sick leave in January 2016 due to an “incapacitating psychological injury” which he claimed had been caused by his exposure to traumatic events in the line of duty.

He claimed he had begun struggling mentally three years into his career while working in general duties at Wollongong Police Station, prompting him to transfer to the police prosecution branch in October 2008.

He said he managed “satisfactorily” during the next few years while in training, however his stress levels increased as his workload became heavier and he also began to clash with other officers in the branch, including his boss.

By mid to late 2011, Hahn said he was unable to properly perform his prosecuting duties due to his poor mental health.

However, the police force challenged the stated cause of Mr Hahn’s psychological injury, claiming it was the result of external stressors in his life at the time, notably the fact that both Mr Hahn and his then-boyfriend were charged with (unrelated) criminal offences in 2013 and 2011 respectively. 

Mr Hahn was suspended with pay while his own court proceedings were heard. Both men were eventually cleared on any wrong doing on all respective charges.

Mr Hahn subsequently lodged a worker’s compensation claim and took sick leave in January 2016. It is unclear if he ever returned to work after the conclusion of the court proceedings and before he lodged the compensation claim.

Meantime, the police force disputed the claim before the NSW Workers Compensation Commission, however the commission ultimately ruled in favour of Mr Hahn following a hearing last year. 

The arbitrator presiding over the case said he was satisfied that extensive medical evidence from Mr Hahn’s treating psychologists established that he was “suffering the effects of post traumatic stress disorder resulting from his exposure to traumatic events during the period 2005 through to 2008”.

He also accepted that additional workplace stressors from 2010 to 2012 either aggravated or exacerbated Mr Hahn’s psychological injury condition.

A subsequent appeal was also dismissed.

Under the terms of the commission’s ruling, Mr Hahn will have all his medical bills paid by the police force and will continue to receive a weekly payment of $480 in accordance with the statutory rate under the NSW Workers Compensation Act.