TWO former policemen who rescued survivors of the Waterfall train disaster have won a significant High Court victory as they battle for compensation.Senior constables David Wicks and Phil Sheehan were among the first at the site of the 2003 derailment, which killed seven people.They were confronted by horrific scenes, including dismembered bodies, and helped the distressed and injured to safety. Both were medically discharged from the police in 2004.The pair sued the State Rail Authority, claiming they suffered psychiatric injuries due to its negligence. But the NSW Court of Appeal last year upheld an earlier ruling that they could not be compensated because the Civil Liability Act restricts damages for mental harm to close relatives of a victim or those who saw someone “being killed, injured or put in peril”.This did not extend to those who came across the scene after the incident in which people were killed, injured or imperilled, the Court of Appeal found.That ruling was overturned yesterday in a unanimous High Court decision after an appeal by Mr Wicks and Mr Sheehan.The court found it was wrong to assume all cases of death, injury or being in peril were events that ”begin and end in an instant” or last only minutes.Survivors injured in the derailment could have suffered psychiatric injury at the scene or been further harmed as they were extricated from the wreckage.”The process of their suffering such an injury was not over when Mr Wicks and Mr Sheehan arrived … [The survivors] remained in peril until they had been rescued by being taken to a place of safety,” the ruling said.Barbara McDonald, a professor of law at Sydney University, said it was a significant judgment which ”brings down a hurdle” for all rescuers who suffered mental harm.The High Court took an ”absolute commonsense” approach to legislation which had prevented rescue workers or members of the public who encountered the aftermath of an accident from recovering damages for psychological injury, she said.”We’re all dependent on professional rescuers to come to our assistance … so it’s right that they should be looked after if they suffer as a result.”The High Court remitted the case to the Court of Appeal to consider issues of negligence and duty of care, but Mr Wicks said he was ”over the moon” about the judgment. Mr Sheehan described it as ”groundbreaking”, adding: ”There’s some light at the end of the tunnel.”The president of the NSW Police Association, Scott Weber, said the decision ”makes it clear that all emergency service workers, rescuers and volunteers present at a disaster should be given the option to pursue compensation”.