Case Summary: Akl v TAC [2024] VCC 242

Case Summary: Akl v TAC [2024] VCC 242

2nd May 2024

Recently the County Court of Victoria examined whether a young adult can be found to be suffering from a ‘severe’ psychiatric injury when, as an eight-year-old child, he was exposed to the immediate aftermath of a transport accident in which his older ‘father figure’ brother was killed.

Background to the case

In 2011 a car full of teenagers was involved in a serious transport accident, the consequences of which were not only life-ending for some occupants, but also life-changing for many families.

Malik Akl was eight years old when he moved to Western Australia with his mother and sister. His brother, Jamil, who was 17 years old at the time of the accident that took his life, was also due to make the move but instead, on 26 March 2011 Mr Akl and his sister were with their mother when she received the phone call no parent ever wants to receive.

Mr Akl described that he saw his mother receive … a call from a friend in Melbourne and she completely changed. I knew something was wrong and she was crying terribly. I had a feeling something happened to Jamil’ (at [13]).

Initially, while shocked, Mr Akl was in denial and told himself that his brother was on holiday, but this changed on the day of the funeral when his mother describes ‘he held Jamil’s hand and … went completely white and would not let go of Jamil’s hand. I have never seen a child so colourless and blank like Malik was. Malik would not talk or engage with anybody. I think the shock was really cemented at that time’ (at [28]).

Court’s findings

The judgment delivered on 12 March 2024 by Purcell J starts with an apt and unnervingly accurate analysis of how difficult severe psychiatric nervous shock injury claims can be when he stated:

‘Consider a scenario of a young boy hit by a car, badly breaking his leg, with a subsequent surgery to repair the fracture but causing a rotational deformity in his leg. In this scenario, it is likely that the orthopaedic injury would still be easily identifiable if the same person was orthopaedically assessed as a young man, even if there had been other traumatic or life stressors happen to him throughout his adolescence and formative years.

Then consider a second scenario of a young boy who suffered a psychiatric injury because of a car accident. In this second scenario, it is likely that the psychiatric injury would not be so easily identifiable if the same person was psychiatrically assessed as a young man, if there had been other traumatic or life stressors happen to him throughout his adolescence and formative years’ (at [1]–[2]).

Many people are exposed to psychiatric stressors throughout their life and, because you cannot see a mental health injury, it is often difficult to have a claim for a mental health injury accepted by the Transport Accident Commission.

In this instance, Mr Akl and his mother, who sustained her own nervous shock injury as a result of the accident, described that in the years following the accident Mr Akl’s performance at school dropped off to the point that he failed year 11 and was told to leave school or transfer to the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL). Mr Akl also suffered from nightmares and flashbacks so, at the young age of 14, he started regularly smoking cannabis to help him deal with these and allow him to sleep.

During the hearing, Mr Akl was questioned about other stressors in his life being the cause of his mental health consequences and the reason for commencing cannabis but, with mind to the ‘careful opinions from Ms [Vicki] Moore, who analysed … school reports and other evidence and concluded within her relevant expertise that the decline in … school performance was related to the compensable psychiatric injury. Her opinions are considered, logical and compelling for a conclusion … academic results were impacted by the claimed “serious” injury” (at [114]), his Honour found that Mr Akl continued to suffer from mental health consequences and a substance use disorder and stated that, among other reasons, Mr Akl ‘had a compromised schooling because of his compensable injury, which has impacted his employability and employment options. That is of itself a very considerable consequence for a young person’ (at [115]).

Of note, Mr Akl was also resistant to seeking mental health treatment assistance. However, his Honour accepted ‘that the … condition is not one that is easily treated. The treatment involves psychological counselling which he finds triggering because it requires him to engage with and recall distressing matters’. In addition, while Mr Akl did more recently undergo some psychological counselling sessions, ‘[t]he treating psychologist … described … ongoing psychological difficulties, and the limited utility of ongoing psychological treatment because of the challenges that counselling had caused. In such a scenario, the … ongoing symptoms are long term’ (at [117]).


The judgment not only highlights the difficulties that arise in mental health injury claims, but also serves as a reminder to not dismiss the consequences of such an injury irrespective of other life influences and lack of treatment.

Finally, on a personal note, while it was not ideal that Mr Akl needed to relive his experience in Court, it was refreshing to hear from the Bench an acknowledgment addressed to Mr Akl that the process is sterile and disconnected, along with an expression of sympathy on behalf of the State of Victoria for the loss he has experienced.

See  Akl v TAC [2024] VCC 242 to read the case in full.


The ALA thanks Jacinta Richards for this contribution.

Jacinta Richards is a principal lawyer at Robinson Gill Lawyers, she brings over 20 years of dedicated service to aiding individuals in navigating complex insurance claims. Passionate about advocating for those affected by workplace injuries, motor vehicle accidents, and public incidents, Jacinta's commitment shines through her collaborative approach and genuine care for her clients.




This is an edited version of an article first published by Robinson Gill Lawyers.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

Learn more about how you can get involved and contribute an article.


Tags: Case summary County Court of Victoria Mental health injury claim Jacinta Richards Traffic Accident Commission