Claims dismissed! Employers not responsible for injured workers

12 March 2024

Workers who suffered upper limb injuries during employment were unsuccessful in their claims for damages against their respective employers in circumstances where their injuries could not be causally connected with their conditions of employment.

In issue

  • Both cases involved disputes about whether each worker could establish a breach of duty against their employer to take reasonable care not to expose them to an unnecessary risk of injury, and whether that breach was causative of the development of the workers’ injuries.

The background

These cases were factually similar in that they both involved a worker returning to work following an injury and subsequently suffering a further injury to their arms, allegedly as a result of performing work duties of a repetitive nature.

In the case of Bishop, the worker suffered injuries to her right elbow over a six-month period during her employment as a kitchen 'utility assistant' at a mining camp as a result of performing a range of duties that were repetitive and involved high forces and static loads. The worker was placed on modified duties during which she increasingly used her left arm, resulting in her developing symptoms related to her left elbow.

In Hunt, the worker was cleared to return to her usual duties as an Aldi store manager after sustaining an unrelated-work injury to her left arm, before subsequently experiencing further pain to her arm as a result of an increased workload in preparing for an audit.

The workers brought claims for damages against their respective employers for failing to take adequate precautions to avoid the risk of injury.

The decision at trial

Both claims were ultimately dismissed at trial, primarily on the basis that the incapacities suffered were not causally related to the workers’ conditions of employment.

In Bishop, it was uncontentious that the worker had sustained the alleged injuries, however, Rosengren DCJ did not accept that the injuries were caused by a breach of duty on her employer’s behalf, despite finding that the employer had indeed breached its duty of care.

In contrast, the worker in Hunt was unable to establish that her employer had breached its duty of care with respect to the safe system of work in place in circumstances where the worker, as store manager, was responsible for staffing and her own working hours. Sheridan DCJ also failed to accept the worker had suffered the condition as alleged, and found that any incapacity was not caused by her conditions of employment.

Implications for you

The judgments demonstrate the importance of employers not only developing safe systems of work, but also of ensuring those systems are appropriately implemented and enforced. The decisions also highlight causation difficulties that claimants can face in circumstances where injuries are sustained while performing light or moderate manual work duties. It is apparent from these decisions that in such circumstances, it is imperative that the medical evidence being advanced establishes a causal connection to the nature of the relevant employment conditions.

Hunt v ALDI Foods Pty Limited trading as ALDI [2024] QDC 15
Bishop v Compass Group Remote Hospitality Services Pty Ltd [2024] QDC 14

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