Ten news reporter Tegan George was left suicidal and turned to alcohol after she was traumatised by the devastating 2019/20 bushfires, new court documents allege.
The former Canberra political reporter said she was haunted by the harrowing scenes she saw while covering the catastrophic fires around the NSW south coast for Ten.
She said she suffered PTSD and nightmares after seeing apocalyptic scenes of dead livestock killed in the blazes and terrified families fighting for their lives and homes.
One panic-stricken local even threatened to start shooting at others during a row over fuel as they desperately tried to escape the flames, court documents reveal.
George alleged she was ‘required’ to file a distressing report on a father and son who tragically died while trying to protect their dairy farm from fire.
Former Canberra political reporter Tegan George says she is haunted by the harrowing scenes she saw while covering the catastrophic fires around the NSW south coast
But George said TV bosses still ordered her to drive into danger zones at the height of the fire crisis despite safety fears and ash falling from the black skies above her.
She claims that she and a colleague ignored an instruction from Canberra news chiefs to drive into Bermagui which had already been evacuated after fire circled it.
But they still had to dodge flames by zigzagging through remote backroads to try to reach safety – and never knew if they were driving into an inferno, she alleged.
George, 38, is now suing for personal injury caused by Ten’s alleged negligence and breach of duty of care in a fresh legal action in ACT Supreme Court against the network.
She filed another lawsuit in the Federal Court in February 2022 claiming Ten’s former political editor Peter van Onselen, 47, sabotaged her career and tried to make a star out of another reporter to ‘get back’ at her.
Dr van Onselen is one of several senior employees named in that lawsuit, which alleges Ten failed to provide a safe working environment for her at the Canberra bureau.
He is named again in the latest legal action, which was launched in March this year with an updated statement of claim made in October which links the two cases.
Dr van Onselen is understood to have been working in Melbourne for The Project prior to going on leave over Christmas and played no part in Ten’s bushfire coverage.
George said the trauma of the bushfires in Bega, Bermagui, Merimbula and Cobargo which she covered between January 1-5 in 2020 wrecked her mental health and career.
Her claim against Ten said the trauma left her ‘intermittently incapacitated for work from February 27, 2020 and then totally incapacitated for work since June 7, 2021’.
It alleges the experience left her with post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, general anxiety disorder and alcohol abuse/dependence.
She said she now suffers panic attacks and suicidal thoughts and has had to be admitted to full-time psychiatric care.
Tegan George says she suffered PTSD and nightmares after seeing apocalyptic scenes of dead livestock killed in the blazes and terrified families fighting for their lives and homes
Ten news reporter Tegan George was left suicidal and turned to booze after she was traumatised by the devastating 2019/20 bushfires , new court documents allege
George alleged TV bosses ordered her to drive into danger zones at the height of the fire crisis despite safety fears and ash falling from the black skies above her
She still suffers ‘distressing dreams’ about the bushfires and is haunted by the memories of the suffering she witnessed and what she went through personally.
Her legal action says she can’t sleep as a result, struggles to concentrate or focus her attention, and has ‘numbness on the left hand side of her body’.
She is still unable to work, the court documents say, and she has ‘feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness’.
She has ‘reduced energy, motivation and interest and engagement in enjoyable activities’, the court documents allege, and suffers headaches and jaw pain.
George needs to take several drugs, including ‘increased dosage’ of antidepressants fluoxetine and venlafaxine, tranquilliser diazepam and the anti-panic attack/PTSD drug Sertraline.
The legal action claims Ten ignored George’s symptoms of ‘psychological disturbance’ and failed to protect her against criticism of her work by Dr van Onselen and former executive editor Anthony Murdoch.
George also alleged her sick leave triggered by the trauma was questioned by the TV station’s network news content editor, Ross Dagan.
She claimed was put under pressure to become involved ‘against her will’ in a workplace action against a colleague.
She said Ten failed in its duty of care to her by not giving her bushfire training in advance of being sent out to cover the blazes, failing to minimise the risk of injury and failing to identify the risk to her health and safety.
‘A reasonable person would have seen a person of normal fortitude might suffer a recognised psychiatric illness if reasonable care was not taken,’ alleges the lawsuit.
‘But for the [trauma], she would not have developed the psychological response to subsequent workplace events that she ultimately did – which culminated in her being incapacitated for work on June 7, 2021.’
Tegan George says the trauma of the bushfires in Bega, Bermagui, Merimbula and Cobargo which she covered between January 1-5 in 2020 wrecked her mental health and career
She and a colleague had to dodge flames by zigzagging through remote backroads to try to reach safety – and never knew if they were driving into an inferno, she alleges
Tegan George’s lawsuit alleges the experience left her with post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, general anxiety disorder and alcohol abuse/dependence
Ten’s formal defence denies all allegations of negligence and says George’s claim relies on the ‘benefit of hindsight’.
It adds: ‘No contemporaneous “warning signs” were reasonably apparent to the defendant.’
The bushfires lawsuit against Ten has been filed through Sneddon Hall & Gallop Lawyers in Canberra, a different law firm from George’s earlier legal action against Ten, which is being pursued by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers.
A spokesman for Ms George told Daily Mail Australia it was the latest attempt by her to expose ‘the horrible way’ Ten allegedly treats its staff.
‘Both legal cases have caused Ms George considerable stress and ill health,’ said a Maurice Blackburn spokesman.
‘She is determined to continue both cases to expose the horrible way Network Ten treats its staff, particularly female journalists, and to expose how it has allowed a work place culture that is hostile and toxic towards women.’
Daily Mail Australia has approached Ten for comment.