A woman who suffered a severe back injury while moving a large bag of sugar at work has been awarded $588,515 in damages at NSW District Court.
The 47-year-old was employed at a veterinary pharmaceuticals manufacturer through a labour hire company when the accident occurred, leaving her with ongoing pain in her lower back, left buttock, hamstring and calf.
According to the plaintiff, she had been manoeuvring a 25-kilogram bag of dextrose from the platform of an electric lifting device when she experienced a shooting pain in her back.
The woman had raised one end of the bag so that the contents could be deposited in a hopper through an opening in the other end of the bag. She claimed that the organisation owed her a duty of care and that this had been breached.
Issue of negligence
When deciding whether or not the defendant was negligent, the court took a range of factors into consideration.
Firstly, District Court Judge Philip Mahony said the company did owe the plaintiff a duty of care to prevent the foreseeable risk of injury from moving heavy bags of dextrose.
Furthermore, he ruled that the business had made adequate efforts to formulate a system where the potential for employee injury was minimised. In fact, if the plaintiff had been following the business’s official protocols, there would have been no lifting of the bags required, thus she would not have come to harm.
However, Judge Mahony added that it is not enough to simply implement a process; sufficient effort must be made to ensure staff follow the system and are supervised while doing so.
Injury compensation decision
As the company had failed to correct the plaintiff’s approach to transferring dextrose to the hopper, the court ruled in the woman’s favour. Her case was supported by the fact that other staff members used a similarly risky method to shift sugar bags.
“The injury the plaintiff has suffered has affected all of her life activities,” Judge Mahony explained.
She therefore received $588,515 of injury compensation to cover a range of economic and non-economic costs, including over $330,000 in lost wages – both past and future. More than $100,000 was provided for gratuitous care and other services.
The defendant was also ordered to pay the plaintiff’s costs, while $7,500 was set aside for the Fox vs Wood element of the case. This relates to recoverable income tax paid on workers’ compensation receipts.