Large furniture store and warehouse ordered to pay substantial damages in lifting accident to worker

Published 15 Nov 2017

Our client was a young worker who was employed by an employment agency as a general labourer and packer. The employment agency sent our client to a furniture store and warehouse located in Auburn, a suburb in Western Sydney NSW.

Our client was sent by the employment agency which is a labour hire company to the furniture store and warehouse in Auburn to perform general warehouse packing work. It was work of a heavy physical nature. It was accepted by all parties that the furniture store and warehouse had a duty of care to exercise reasonable care to prevent injury to our client and to provide a safe system of work for all workers.

During the course of our client undertaking his work our client was directed by the manager to wrap a number of couches and to move them to the dock area of the premises. Our client undertook this work and moved a number of couches to the dock area of the premises as requested. One of the couches was quit large and heavy and our client was unable to lift if due to its weight and size. Our client requested assistance to lift the couch and he was informed there was no assistance available and that he would have to move the couch on his own, despite his protects.

During the course of moving and lifting this large heavy couch our client suffered quite a serious injury to his lower back which required surgery. In fact the x-ray evidence revealed that he had suffered a disc protrusion in the discs of his lower back which were pressing on the nerves and thereby necessitating surgery after conservative treatment failed to relieve his lower back symptoms.

Our client was a conscientious worker. He was quiet upset and distressed that the store manager declined to provide him assistance to lift the couch and directed him to lift the couch unassisted. During the course of attempting to life the couch unassisted and in the process of lifting the couch our client heard a large crack in the lower left side of his back. He could not move for more than half an hour due to pain. He informed the store manager of the incident and his injury. The store manager directed that he return to his duties although he was clearly unable to do so due to pain.

After our clients lower back surgery a letter of demand was forwarded to the furniture store and warehouse in relation to our client’s injury. It was submitted that the risk of harm that existed at the time of the accident, and ultimately materialised, was the risk of workers being injured as a result of lifting heavy couches by themselves, and improperly. It was a risk of injury that was foreseeable.

It was a risk of harm that was not insignificant. It was alleged that the furniture store and warehouse, it agents and/or its employees including the store manager who directed our client to lift the couch unassisted failed to take reasonable care to prevent that risk of harm from materialising.

We launched legal proceedings against the furniture store and warehouse in that they failed to respond to our claim. Part of the particulars of negligence was their failure to devise and provide a safe system of work and that they exposed our client to risk of injury that could have been avoided by reasonable care on their part. It was alleged that the furniture store and warehouse breached that duty of care that they owed to our client.

The representatives for the furniture store and warehouse were intending to issue cross claims against our client employer that was a labour hire company that sent our client to the furniture store and warehouse to undertake his work. However it was clear from the evidence that our client was injured due to the negligence of the store manager at the furniture store and warehouse in the manner in which he directed our client to undertake the work without assistance knowing fully well that the large and heavy couch would not be able to be lifted by our client without some form of assistance even though he had lifted and carried a number of other couches but not as large as the one in question and which caused him to suffer his serious injury.

It was clear that liability was going to be in question as a result of the defendant’s stance and position taken in the matter. As a result we commissioned our liability expert report in relation to the claim. It was opined by the expert that the furniture store and warehouse did not implement a work health and safety risk management system at its premises. It had a duty of carer to ensure the safety of its workers whilst undertaking the subject tasks at the material time. It had an obligation to ensure that all hazards tasks were appropriately assessed and controlled to minimised foreseeable risks of injury.

The expert also provided an opinion that the furniture store and warehouse failed to consult to ensure that our client was provided with appropriate man power to assist with manual handling of the subject couches at the time. Furthermore the furniture store and warehouse was responsible for the storage, layout systems of work and the handling of all couched in there warehouse at the material time. Our client was working under the direction of the furniture store and warehouse at all times, and not his employer.

The expert also determined that had a manual tasks risk assessment been performed by the furniture store and warehouse then the likely injury with the lifting and handling of couches as described would have been identified and appropriate assistance would have been implemented to minimise the risk of injury to our client. Furthermore the expert determined the furniture store and warehouse directed our client to undertake a hazards manual task despite his request for assistance. It was determined the furniture store and warehouse had failed to exercise reasonable care and to provide a safe system of work at the time. It was negligent in causing our client serious injury.

After our client had undergone surgery to his lower back he required injections in his back and physiotherapy and ongoing treatment until his condition had stabilised. He also developed a psychological condition consequent upon his injury due to the debilitating effects of his injury and his incapacity to participate in normal social, domestic, recreational, sporting and employment activities. Our client was quiet restricted in many tasks particularly heavy physical tasks as he was able to preforming prior to his accident. Our client needed quit significant assistance from his parents and family after the injury due to his incapacity.

Our client was independently medically examined and assessed by a number of doctors and specialists. It was determined that he has suffered a disc protrusion in his lower back following the lifting injury. Due to the persistent symptoms and neurological signs he came to surgical removal of the disc in his lower back. He was left with ongoing and significant symptoms in his lower back and his left lower leg in terms of sciatica and he was left significantly disabled. In addition to that he developed a psychological condition due to the debilitating effects of his physical injuries on all aspects of his life.

Our client was sent to see further doctors and specialists and neurosurgeons due to the ongoing problems with his lower back. It was recommended that he undergo further surgery to his lower back. Our client was not keen on undergoing further surgical treatment in that he did not want his condition to become worse over time particularly when he was quite young.

The defendant arranged for our client to be independently medically examined and assessed. Their doctors and specialists found that our client was left with a permanent injury as a result of the accident. The court listed the matter for hearing over a number of days and directed the parties to arrange for a mediation hearing to canvas the liability and medical issues. An independent mediator was appointed by the parties to assist with the mediation of the claim prior to the court hearing.

The defendant did not serve any liability expert evidence in respond to our expert liability report which determined that the furniture store and warehouse was negligent in causing our clients injury. It seems that that the main issue was rather the value of the claim as a result of the client’s injuries and disabilities arising of the accident.

After undertaking a mediation hearing to address the liability and medical issues in the matter, the defendant furniture store and warehouse were ordered to pay our client a substantial award in damages of compensation for his injuries, losses, and damages. In regard to the circumstances of our client’s injury and the denial of liability by the furniture store and warehouse, our client was very happy of the outcome of the settlement of his matter. Our client felt vindicated after the way he was treated by the furniture store and warehouse after his injury. They were ordered to pay a substantial award in damages in compensation to our client as a result of their negligence in causing his injury.

Conclusion

If you are an employee or labourer who has suffered and injury on the premises of your employer or the premises of another party, you may be able to be entitled to receive a substantial award in damages in compensation as a result of your injuries and disabilities arising from the accident, providing that you can prove negligence against that party.

In our client’s case he was a general labourer and packer employed by an employment agency being a labour hirer company and he was seconded to go and work for another party to perform general warehouse packing work. This was the furniture store and warehouse. Whilst being directed to lift a large heavy couch unassisted, our client suffered a serious injury to his lower back which required surgery.

We submitted that the large furniture store were negligent in causing our clients injury by directing him to lift a large heavy couch unassisted when he sought for assistance at the time. In the process of lifting the large heavy couch unassisted and moving it towards the dock area our client suffered a serious injury to his lower back which required surgery. The liability expert evidence determined that the large furniture store and warehouse were negligent in causing our clients injury.

The large furniture store and warehouse clearly acknowledged the nature and extent of our client’s injury and his ongoing disabilities and participated in a court independent mediation hearing prior to a formal court hearing of the matter. At the end of the mediation hearing, the large furniture store and warehouse were order to pay our client a substantial award in damages in compensation for their negligence in causing our clients injury.

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