Judge’s failings lead to work injury damages retrial

Date: Sep 21, 2018

The legal system isn’t perfect, which is why the appeals process exists to ensure plaintiffs and defendants can dispute a decision if they feel wronged.

A recent case that went before the Supreme Court’s Court of Appeal has highlighted the importance of appeals for maintaining fairness in liability claims. Various failings were found in the original judge’s findings, which has led to a retrial that could place more than $1 million worth of work injury damages at risk.

So what went wrong? And will a retrial have an impact on the plaintiff’s compensation claim?

The original trial decision

The plaintiff worked for a labour hire company that contracted her out to a media organisation based in Moorebank. She had two key duties:

  • Lifting bundles of magazines from a shelf onto a conveyer belt.
  • Picking up stacks of books, cutting the straps that secured them and then taking out whichever copies were required and re-strapping the pile.

According to the plaintiff, she injured her neck and shoulder while manoeuvring a heavy bundle of magazines that weighed over 15 kilograms.

The primary judge found both the labour hire company and the media firm negligent in four areas:

  1. Failure to rotate staff effectively to prevent injuries.
  2. Lack of supervision.
  3. Poor training regarding a new ‘hook’ knife used to cut straps.
  4. Unsatisfactory risk assessment.

The judge awarded the plaintiff $544,885 from the media company and a further $497,585 from the Workers Compensation Nominal Insurer, as the labour hire firm had announced insolvency during the trial.

What mistakes were made in the original trial?

The Court of Appeal judges raised serious concerns with the original decision, particularly in relation to the trial judge’s handling of the Civil Liability Act 2002.

Under the Act, compensation is paid out when a defendant has a duty of care to the plaintiff and this obligation is breached due to negligence. The negligent actions must also have directly led to the claimant’s injuries.

However, the Court of Appeal found the original judge largely accepted the plaintiff’s evidence that breaches had occurred, without evaluating convincing contradictory evidence from the defendant.

The judge also failed to establish that negligent actions, if they indeed occurred, led to the plaintiff’s injuries. Lastly, he had neglected to establish whether crucial factors of the case were true, such as the weight of the magazine piles that the claimant said she lifted on the day of her accident.

Unfortunately, a retrial means the plaintiff must convince a new judge that her employers’ negligence led to her injuries. With more than $1 million on the line, she will no doubt want to ensure she has the best legal representation to help her win the case.

Have you been involved in an accident at work? Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers can help you pursue a claim for personal injury damages.

Call us now on 1800 004 878 to book a free appointment with one of my compensation experts, or email your enquiry.