Zookeeper wins workers’ compensation appeal over AMS error

Date: Jul 18, 2017

Approved Medical Specialists (AMS) are senior practising professionals who have a comprehensive understanding of the NSW workers’ compensation system – but mistakes can still be made.

AMS errors were at the heart of a recent case that went before the state’s Supreme Court when a zookeeper appealed a decision over injuries she suffered while working at Taronga Park Zoo.

The woman sustained injuries in three separate incidents during her employment, which have left her with permanent disabilities in her neck, right arm and back.

How was the plaintiff hurt?

The plaintiff’s first accident occurred on September 12 1993 when she was carrying out shovelling work while creating a new habitat for the zoo’s North American bobcats.

She began to feel pain on the right-hand side of the base of her neck. The plaintiff suffered another accident the next day when she lost control of a wheelbarrow laden with tussocks, which resulted in acute pain near the shoulder in her right arm.

A third incident occurred three years later after the woman went to retrieve an item that a visitor dropped in a duck pond. She slipped as she clambered out of the pond onto a bridge, falling roughly 1.5 metres onto a sandstone rock, causing her to injure her coccyx and lower back.

Approximately 18 months later, the plaintiff stopped working for the zoo, and the facility accepted liability for her injuries. She received two separate lump sum payments under the Workers Compensation Act 1987 (NSW) – one for $10,600 in 2002 and another for $8,000 in 2008 after her injuries worsened.

Pursuing a third claim

The matter came to court when the plaintiff attempted to make a third claim after alleging further deterioration in her neck, back and arm. As a result, the plaintiff was sent to an AMS for an evaluation of her injuries.

He produced a Medical Assessment Certificate claiming the woman had impairments of 10, 5 and 5 per cent in her neck, arm and back respectively. This would not entitle the plaintiff to more compensation.

However, the plaintiff requested that an Appeal Panel overturn the decision, arguing that the doctor had committed various errors. These included failing to take heed of the woman’s subjective comments regarding the pain her injuries caused.

The Supreme Court decision

The Appeal Panel rejected her claim, but the plaintiff pursued the case to the Supreme Court, where Associate Justice Joanne Harrison ruled both the Appeal Court and the AMS had acted outside of their jurisdiction.

As such, the decisions the Appeal Court and the AMS made were quashed and the plaintiff will now be remitted to the registrar of the Workers Compensation Commission for a new ruling. This means she still has an opportunity receive further compensation for her injuries.

Have you suffered an accident or injury at work? Please talk to an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer at Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers.

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