The Civil Liability Act 2002 is a complex piece of legislation that explains the circumstances under which an individual can claim compensation for injuries they suffer as the result of negligence.
Plaintiffs must show that an organisation or individual owed them a duty of care and that this obligation was breached due to negligence on the defendant's part.
Section 5D of the Act sets out the rules of causation when making a public liability claim. This places a burden of proof on the plaintiff to show that the defendant's negligence was the reason for harm coming to the individual.
In other words, a defendant may be deemed negligent, but if their failings didn't directly lead to the injuries for which the plaintiff is claiming, the person may not receive compensation.
Let's examine how causation is judged in practice using a recent $1.45 million public liability claim that went before NSW District Court.
The man in the case alleged that he injured his back while working as a warehouse picker-packer, which required the plaintiff to retrieve goods from shelves and package them for delivery to customers.
According to the worker, the job was fast paced and employees were expected to hit difficult targets of picking and packing a certain number of items each day.
He said this atmosphere caused many of the employees to cut corners, despite the organisation providing extensive training and safety programs to ensure the work was done in line with procedure. For example, staff were told not to pick up more than one box at a time to prevent the risk of injury.
However, the plaintiff ignored these instructions and lifted two cartons of dog food, seriously hurting his back and leading to ongoing numbness in his leg. The man also claims he suffers depression since the accident due to the extent of his injuries.
The man's counsel claimed the company was negligent because the dog food cartons were stored in 1.4 metre high pick slots, which forced employees to stoop in order to collect and lift them, clearly risking back injuries.
District Court Judge Matthew Dicker agreed, but he failed to rule in favour of the claim because he did not believe the defendant's breach of duty was the causative factor of the man's injuries.
"I find that the cause of the injury on the evidence was the plaintiff lifting two boxes of dog food which the experts both regarded as presenting a serious risk of injury," he explained.
The case shows the intricate nature of many public liability claims, which is why you should seek help from the best personal injury lawyers available. Please contact Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers for more information.