Reality TV show leaves mum disabled
A former reality TV show contestant who suffered a permanent psychological injury after being portrayed as a "villain" by Channel 7 is terrified of leaving the house and struggles even with basic activities like watching Netflix.
Nicole Prince, who appeared with her friend Fiona Taylor on the 2017 season of home renovation show House Rules, last year won a landmark workers' compensation case against the broadcaster.
In a medical assessment last month, the tribunal found Ms Prince was unlikely to ever work again as a result of her injury.
The case was significant in that for the first time, a contestant on an Australian reality TV show was found to be an employee of a broadcaster - despite her contract explicitly stating otherwise.
Ms Prince and Ms Taylor were the second team voted off the 2017 season, in which the NSW Workers Compensation Commission found they were deliberately portrayed in a "negative light" by Channel 7.
The Torquay mother of three lodged a workers compensation claim in May 2017, alleging she had suffered as a result of bullying and harassment from the other teams.
She alleged the conduct was "not only condoned by the producer, but it was aggravated even encouraged by them", with the pair deliberately isolated from the other contestants.
Ms Prince said when she complained to Channel 7, she was "threatened that Fiona and I would be portrayed negatively".
"True to their threatening words, Channel 7 portrayed Fiona and I as bullies in the episode featuring our team," she said.
"After our episode was aired I was subjected to online abuse on the Channel 7 Facebook page, including receiving threats of serious physical assault. I have been fearful for my safety ever since."
Channel 7's insurer initially denied liability on the basis that Ms Prince was technically "not a worker".
After a lengthy legal battle, NSW Workers Compensation Commission arbitrator Cameron Burge last year rejected Seven's argument and found in favour of Ms Prince.
Mr Burge said Channel 7 had a "great deal of control" over Ms Prince's activities, and that the relationship was "appropriately categorised as that of employee and employer".
With that relationship established, he said there was "little doubt" she was placed in a "hostile and adversarial environment in the course of her employment".
"Regardless of any notion of fault on the part of (Channel 7), the breakdown in the applicant's relationship with other contestants, together with the impact of her portrayal on television and social media, in my view explains the onset of her psychological injury," he said.
Channel 7 was ordered to pay compensation to Ms Prince, who was referred to a medical specialist to determine the level of permanent impairment arising from the injury.
She was examined in March this year and assessed as having 7 per cent "whole person impairment".
Ms Price then lodged an appeal seeking to have a new medical assessment done on the basis that there were errors in the initial process.
The appeal was granted and she was reassessed by a member of the Commission's Appeal Panel last month.
"In my opinion I accepted Ms Prince as suffering from major depression with features of anxiety and agoraphobia and that her complaints were consistent with this diagnosis," Dr Julian Parmegiani noted.
"This is equivalent to a whole person psychiatric impairment rating of 22 per cent."
Ms Prince described to the examiner how the she had been left "numb", lacking energy or motivation and drinking "harmful" amounts of alcohol.
"Ms Prince showered on average three times per week. She could not remember when she last had a haircut, and she no longer had facial treatments," Dr Parmegiani said.
Ms Prince said apart from a yoga class once per week at the suggestion of her GP - prior to lockdown - she barely left the house, fearing being recognised by strangers.
She had no contact with friends and last attended a family function, a cousin's wedding, in 2018.
"Her partner took her to a cafe every six months," Dr Parmegiani said.
"(The) extent of any other activity was watching a Netflix program once per week with her partner for up to 20 to 30 minutes before losing interest."
Ms Prince did not take part in any activities that required "significant intellectual effort".
"She was only able to read for 15 to 20 minutes before losing focus," Dr Parmegiani said.
"She had no interest in social media. In 2020 she began an astrology course. She found it difficult to focus on course material, and she discontinued her studies."
Ms Prince rated her energy at 10 per cent of former levels and did not "undertake activities that could reasonably attract remuneration in the open labour market".
"I believe that she cannot work at all," Dr Parmegiani said.
A doctor put forward by Channel 7 provided a contrary report, describing Ms Prince's symptoms as "disproportionately excessive and highly improbable".
Dr John Roberts suggested that Ms Prince had made some progress with treatment and that it was premature to assess her as permanently impaired.
The full Appeal Panel rejected that report, saying "we do not share Dr Roberts' opinion of the appellant's symptoms being disproportionate and otherwise highly improbable".
"We have read the documents contained in the application which include internet commentary derogating the appellant," they said.
"We observe that it is not surprising that the appellant developed a serious psychological illness following such sustained abuse."
The Appeal Panel accepted Dr Parmegiani's findings, saying it was "satisfied that the assessment of impairment is permanent".
"Our expert medical view is that there is no likelihood of improvement," they said.
Channel 7 has been contacted for comment.