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We provide a short update on the matter of The Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne v RWQ (a pseudonym) [2024] following the denial of special leave by the High Court on 8 February 2024.


RWQ was the father of a son who had allegedly been sexually abused by George Pell in 1996. RWQ alleged that he suffered nervous shock after being notified of the alleged abuse by the Victorian Police Force (Sano Task Force). His son had previously died in 2014 as a result of a heroin overdose which he allegedly used to deal with the trauma of the abuse. A claim was made against the Archdiocese for the injury relying upon Part XI of the Wrongs Act 1958 (Vic).

The Archdiocese (which is an unincorporated non-government organisation) denied the claim.  

The denial was on the basis that the claim did not arise from child abuse and therefore the Legal Identity of Defendants (Organisational Child Abuse) Act 2018 (Vic) (the Act) was not applicable. The main argument of the Archdiocese was that the Act was limited only to children who were ‘primary victims’ or ‘survivors’ and that claims only connected to the alleged abuse were not captured.

The Supreme Court of Victoria in a judgment of 24 August 2022 rejected this submission. The Court determined that the claim must only be ‘founded on or arising from child abuse’ and which includes a claim for nervous shock brought by a parent of a child alleged to have been sexually abused. The Victorian Court of Appeal on 25 August 2023 confirmed this judgment.

The Archdiocese sought special leave from the High Court. This was denied on 8 February 2024.

What do we expect next?

With the denial of special leave by the High Court, RWQ (the father) will be entitled to pursue a claim against the Archdiocese for nervous shock. It will be for the Victorian courts to determine issues which may include remoteness, foreseeability and causation which are all well determined issues within Australia.

The entitlement of secondary victims significantly expands the potential range of claims which may arise out of an instance of childhood abuse from the primary victim to a unknown range of secondary victims which may include other affected family members. Insurers, and relevant organisations should remain aware of the potentially expanding ambit of claims and take suitable precautions. Consideration should be had to ensure that settlement documents with primary victims contain appropriate indemnities to the respondent in respect of related secondary claims.

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