Injured breaking up a dog fight while working from home, found causal to employment

22 April 2024

A worker was injured while working from home and attempting to break up a dog fight taking place outside her front door.

Her worker’s compensation claim was disputed by the insurer on the basis that the injury did not arise out of, or in the course of, her employment and that the employment was not a substantial contributing factor.

In issue

  • The causal connection between a remote worker’s employment and any injury suffered while undertaking activities unrelated to their work duties.

The background

The respondent (worker) was working from home at the material time, consistent with COVID-19 protocol requirements and was bitten by a dog on her hand as she attempted to intervene in a dog attack on her daughter’s puppy outside her front door, resulting in the worker sustaining severe lacerations and a psychological injury.

The respondent submitted a claim for worker's compensation in the aftermath of the incident, which was disputed by the applicant (insurer) on the basis that the injury did not arise out of, or in the course of, her employment and that employment was not a substantial contributing factor to the injury, pursuant to ss4 and 9A of the Workers Compensation Act 1987 (the Act).

The respondent argued that she would not have been home at the time of the incident if not for work, and, as a result of her duties, she was required to keep her household pet outside to keep the environment quiet. The applicant argued that the respondent’s employment was interrupted when she attended the dog attack and maintained there to be no causal connection with her employment.

The decision at trial

The respondent commenced proceedings in the Personal Injury Commission. The dispute was heard before Member Homan who ultimately awarded the worker compensation for weekly payments and medical expenses. Member Homan found the physical and psychological injuries were sustained in the course of the worker’s employment and was satisfied that the employment was a substantial contributing factor to her injuries. In reaching her decision, Member Homan concluded that:

Furthermore, the dog attack commenced while the [respondent] was in the performance of her actual work duties. Although she ceased performing those duties to investigate and then intervene in the attack, as was the case in Smith, I am satisfied that this was a reasonable and practical necessity and consistent with what her employer would have reasonably expected of her in the circumstances. I do not accept that the employer would have expected the [respondent] to disregard the distress of the puppy and continue on with her work. I am not satisfied that this conduct took the [respondent] outside the ordinary course of her employment.

The issues on appeal

The applicant appealed the findings of Member Homan on the following grounds:

  1. The Member erred in concluding that the worker sustained injury in the course of her employment.
  2. The Member failed to make a comparative assessment of competing factors.
  3. The Member failed to consider if the worker’s employment was ‘of substance’.
  4. The Member failed to take into account relevant matters, as mandated by the legislation.

The decision on appeal

After considering the evidence on the papers, PIC President Judge Phillips found that Member Homan had not erred in her findings, and dismissed all four grounds of appeal.

Judge Phillips rejected the applicant’s submission that the Member erred in finding that the injury took place on the respondent’s property. He noted that the applicant’s assertion that the attack took place on the street was based upon various entries in medical records. Consistent with settled authority, Judge Phillips considered Member Homan had rightly viewed the recorded entries with caution. Contrary to the applicant’s submission, Judge Phillips confirmed there was evidence to support that the attack had taken place on the respondent’s property. Judge Phillips was satisfied that Member Homan had assessed the various work and non-work related factors reaching her determination.

Judge Phillips held that Member Homan did not fail in finding that ‘substantial contributing factor’ had been established on the basis of the Member’s remarks relating to the absence of evidence to indicate that had the respondent not been working at home, the dog would not have been placed outside the house, making it susceptible to attack. Accordingly, Member Homan did not err in accepting that the circumstance arose due to the respondent being at work and the nature of her employment.

In response to ground four of the appeal, Judge Phillips considered that a fair reading of the Member’s decision revealed an undertaking of precisely the tasks that are required by s9A of the Act and as stated in the relevant authorities.

Accordingly, Member Homan’s decision was upheld.

Implications for you

The decision demonstrates the broad approach taken by the Personal Injury Commission with respect to ss4 and 9A of the Act and injuries sustained by employees while working from home. It is apparent that an employee who is injured while working from home and conducting activities which seem to be unrelated to their employment, may be found to be causally connected upon closer consideration.

State of New South Wales (Western NSW Local Health District) v Knight [2023] NSWPICPD 63

Ask us how we can help

Receive our latest news, insights and events
Barry Nilsson acknowledges the traditional owners of the land on which we conduct our business, and pays respect to their Elders past, present and emerging.
Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation