Civilian staff employed for breakdown and accident duties received no training for traumatic experiences which caused them serious psychiatric illness, it was claimed.
One worker said he could still smell burning flesh weeks after finding two bodies in car wreckage.
He also had to pick up the vehicle in which solicitor Rosemary Nelson was killed in a loyalist booby-trap attack, a judge was told.
Details emerged at the opening of an action brought by two men and the widow of a third who all worked as recovery drivers.
They are suing the PSNI and the Policing Board for alleged breach of a duty of care and failure to provide treatment, support and counselling.
Their lawyers claimed the case can be distinguished from a failed lawsuit by thousands of former and serving policemen and women over post-traumatic stress suffered during Northern Ireland's troubles.
Liam McCollum QC argued his clients received none of the support offered to members of the force following the establishment of an occupational health unit.
Instead of being properly shielded from the consequences of terrorist acts, public disorder and road deaths they were required to carry out duties for which they were entirely unsuited, according to the barrister.
He insisted their job were to collect vehicles, not gather evidence or carry out investigative work.
"We say the injuries are either partly or entirely attributed to the negligent exposure of the plaintiffs to these events," Mr McCollum told the court.
Joint cases have been taken by James Rodgers, 65, Mark Campbell, 50, and the widow of Samuel Brown.
The plaintiffs were part of a unit employed internally as independent contractors were put off from carrying out vehicle recovery work for the police due to threats.
Among the incidents they dealt with was a fatal road crash in the 1990s where a burnt car had to be lifted out of a hedge.
As Mr Rodgers carried out the task two bodies fell out and landed at his feet.
"He could still smell the burnt flesh for weeks afterwards," Mr McCollum said.
He was exposed to further death and gore at a series of accident scenes and acts of terrorism.
They included car-bomb attacks on a UDR man and Rosemary Nelson, the lawyer killed outside her Lurgan home in 1999.
With Mr Campbell and Mr Brown said to have similar experiences, Mr McCollum contended: "These men were being asked to do jobs meant for police."
The barrister told Mr Justice Gillen: "As part of their duties they (police) had to be exposed to the full horror of crimes committed.
"But breakdown recovery employees we say were in a completely different position."
According to the plaintiff's case, which alleges liability from 1986 when occupational health facilities were in place, their duties should have been subjected to risk assessments.
Exposure to traumatic events should have been avoided or minimised. If neither was possible they should have received proper support and counselling, it was argued.
Mr McCollum told the court: "For whatever reason the types of worker the plaintiffs were just seemed to be completely overlooked when it came to visiting these sort of issues by the defendant, which is clearly a breach of duty of care."
Nicholas Hanna QC, for the PSNI and Policing Board, rejected claims that crime and accident scenes should have been "sanitised" before the vehicle recovery men arrived.
"There's absolutely no evidence for that," he insisted.
The action was then adjourned for amendments to be made to the parties' cases.
It will be reviewed again later this week to fix a date for resuming the hearing.