A motorist unnecessarily detained by police while trying to return to the hospital bedside of his dying father has been awarded a quarter of the $120,000 he had claimed for false imprisonment.
Brisbane District Court Judge Michael Byrne QC on Friday ordered the Queensland Government to pay Richard Scott Walker $30,000, plus interest, in damages stemming for a successful lawsuit judgment under Queensland’s Civil Proceeding Act 2011 almost eight years ago.
Judge Byrne, in a recently published 25-page decision, granted Walker’s application for $30,000 compensation for events relating to an incident in which he was the subject of false imprisonment by two police officers on the Sunshine Coast on 10 September 2014.
The court was told that, earlier in the day Walker had been visiting his father at the Sunshine Coast University Private Hospital and then left for a drive to settle himself upon learning his father was about to be placed in palliative care.
Judge Byrne said that, shortly after leaving the hospital, Walker was detained by two officers – Constables Ahern and Brett – who alleged he was seen performing a “burnout” while driving along Nicklin Way, at Kawana.
The court was told that, about 9.59am on 10 September 2014, Walker’s car was intercepted by the two police officers for alleged driving offences related to his vehicle’s brief loss of traction on the road.
“(Walker) was told he was stopped because he had performed burnout. He denied doing that but accepted he had briefly lost traction,” Judge Byrne said.
“(Walker) said he wanted to leave to be with his father who was dying and was currently in hospital … (and) said he was in a hurry to get back to the hospital.
“It is jointly agreed (between the State of Queensland and Walker) that while (Walker) was lawfully detained he gave police his father’s name and invited them to ring the hospital to confirm his father was there.
“(Constable) Ahrens rang the Sunshine Coast University Private Hospital and confirmed that (Walker’s) father was there. Police then checked (Walker’s) traffic and criminal history, they then consulted each other and decided to issue him with a Traffic Infringement Notice and to impound his vehicle for 90 days.
“Police left their flashing lights on while at the roadside. A traffic accident involving a truck and three other vehicles occurred on the adjacent roadway and a woman was trapped in her car and others were injured.”
Judge Byrne said it was also jointly agreed – by the parties – that from 10.15am onwards Constable Ahrens told Walker his car was to be impounded for 90 days for a “hooning offence” and would have to wait at the scene until a tow truck could remove his vehicle.
“(Walker) denied any such offence, again said that his father was dying and that he was in a hurry to get back to the hospital.
“At one point Ahrens told him that the (unrelated) traffic accident would not have happened if he had driven normally.
“Subsequently (Walker) was given a Traffic Infringement Notice. During the period of the detention Ahrens had various interactions with the plaintiff, the effect of which was that he was to remain at the roadside until his car had been put on a tow truck and the necessary documentation had been completed.”
The court also noted Mr Walker’s father passed away on 12 September 2014 – two days after the traffic incident.
In March 2018, Walker filed a claim for damages in the District Court for both malicious prosecution and false imprisonment.
The claims were heard before now former Judge Greg Koppenol, sitting with a jury, who awarded judgment in favour of Walker for both claims.
The decision was referred to the Queensland Court of Appeal (COA) in June 2020, with the COA allowing Walker’s claim for false imprisonment only.
The matter was then remitted back to the District Court for Judge Byrne to assess Walker’s damages and costs.
Judge Byrne said: “(Walker) is entitled to general damages to reflect the injury to liberty and the injury to feelings, otherwise considered as the distress and embarrassment suffered, including mental suffering.
“I consider (Walker) is also entitled to aggravated damages, particularly because of the officers’ failure to inform him as to what they were told of his father’s status, (Constable) Ahrens comment about the cause of the collision, the failure to apologise and the officers’ insistence on giving conclusive evidence of offending of which he had been found not guilty.
“Each of those types of conduct was, in my view, improper and unjustifiable, both singularly and in combination, and goes beyond the bounds of ordinary human fallibility.
“The period of unlawful detention was relatively short, being 63 minutes, (and) it was a period of time which was particularly precious to (Walker) and a period of time during which he was susceptible to experiencing considerable distress and upset.
“I assess damages, including aggravated damages, in the total amount of $30,000. I allow interest pursuant to section 58 of the Civil Proceedings Act 2011 from 10 September 2014.”
Read the decision.