$3.5m+ award of damages sets new record in child sexual abuse cases

A recent Supreme Court decision highlights the risk of organisations assuming that if a claim of child sexual abuse is successful, Courts will award damages in line with the amounts payable under the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse.

In MC v Morris [2019] NSWSC 1326, the New South Wales Supreme Court found that the applicant has suffered a post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, medication-related obesity and other related health issues following historic child sexual abuse.

The Court assessed damages of more than $3.5 million dollars at common law.

The case

In the mid 1990’s, the plaintiff performed lawn-mowing and maintenance work for his neighbours, including the defendant. At the time, the plaintiff was between 13 and 15 years old.

The defendant groomed and sexually abused the plaintiff during this period. After the plaintiff reported the abuse to the police in 2017, the defendant was charged with, and pled guilty to, criminal offences resulting in his imprisonment.

Following this, the plaintiff commenced civil proceedings against the defendant for assault and battery relating to the sexual abuse. The defendant was represented at the hearing, however did not file a defence or serve any expert evidence. The plaintiff led evidence in relation to the effect of the abuse on his life, including his expulsion from school, breakdown of his subsequent marriage and inability to maintain consistent employment.

The plaintiff tendered expert evidence of psychological injury, including post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression requiring medication, leading to extreme weight gain.

Assessment of Quantum

While damages will vary depending on the individual circumstances of the case, this decision highlights a willingness by courts to recognise the significant impact of child sexual abuse on the survivor – physically, psychologically, financially and interpersonally.

With respect to the quantum, the Court noted that it:

“Reflects the reality that the defendant’s predatory pursuit of his depraved sexual interest in a boy of early teenage years has all but destroyed what might have been a contented and useful life.”

The quantum was calculated as follows:

  • General and aggravated damages – $400,000
  • Interest on general damages – $115,000
  • Past loss of earnings – $840,000
  • Past loss of superannuation – $92,400
  • Interest on past loss of earnings – $676,363
  • Future loss of earnings – $1,079,483
  • Future loss of superannuation – $152,963
  • Future medical expenses – $20,000
  • Future care – $134,304

Key take-away points

The case serves as a reminder that organisations should not rely on the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Assessment Framework to assess potential quantum of damages relating to historical child sexual abuse matters, as survivors still have the ability to pursue a common law claim.

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