Reasonable cause stops the clock

11 October 2022

An employer unsuccessfully appealed the decision of the Workers’ Compensation Regulator to allow a claim out of time by an employee who claimed to have lodged her application for damages upon becoming aware she was suffering from a diagnosable psychiatric injury.

On appeal, the Industrial Court of Queensland considered the Regulator had correctly identified the actual issue being that an extension should be given because a mistake or reasonable cause had been shown.

In issue

  • An employer appealed the decision of the Workers’ Compensation Regulator (the Regulator) to allow an application for compensation out of time. The employer argued the timeframe to lodge a claim effectively began to run once the worker had been assessed by her general practitioner despite the worker not receiving her diagnosis until some twelve months later.

The background

The Appellant was the employer of a worker who had suffered a psychiatric injury through the course of her employment as an Anatomy Mortuary Technician. The worker had attended her GP on 14 March 2019 with the clinical notes recording her complaints of '…work stress… angry, crying, not sleeping.'

The worker subsequently returned to work and then on 9 March 2020, she re-attended her GP with similar complaints of work-related issues, followed by three subsequent attendances later that month.

The worker submitted her application for workers’ compensation on 11 August 2020. She consulted a psychiatrist on 6 October 2020 and was diagnosed with an adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood. He concluded the worker’s employment was a significant contributing factor to the cause of her psychiatric injury and opined the injury had manifested in its fully developed state in November or December 2019.

The worker’s application was rejected by the self-insured employer, on account of her failure to submit the application within 6 months of her becoming aware of her injury, that is the date of her initial GP consult on 14 March 2019.

The issues on appeal

The worker applied for review of the employer’s decision to the Regulator. The Regulator concluded that no diagnoses had been made at the consultation in March 2019, and that whilst some symptoms had been identified, no specific diagnosis of a work-related injury was made or communicated. Nonetheless, the Regulator appreciated the injury had been assessed on 14 March 2019, effectively meaning the claim was lodged out of time unless reasonable cause could be shown to enable the time limit to be waived.

The Regulator determined on the grounds of the medical evidence that the worker did not understand her condition until it had been diagnosed in March 2020. The Regulator considered that from that point, the worker had acted reasonably in lodging her claim. On that basis, the Regulator accepted the worker had reasonable cause not to lodge her application for compensation within the legislative timeframe and was satisfied to waive the time limit.

The employer appealed the Regulator’s decision and submitted that the Regulator had confused the notion of the injury being ‘assessed’ with the injury being ‘diagnosed’. The University submitted the evidence showed the worker knew, in March 2019, that she had suffered an injury by that point, and it was not reasonable for her to wait over a year before submitting her claim.

The decision on appeal

On appeal, President Davis of the Industrial Court of Queensland found the Regulator had identified that the injury had been assessed on 14 March 2019 and that time had indeed begun to run against the worker. However, President Davis considered the Regulator had also correctly identified the real issue, which was whether an extension should be given because a mistake or reasonable cause had been shown. Relevant to that consideration of reasonable cause, was the knowledge which the worker had and the steps she took once she had obtained knowledge of her condition. President Davis affirmed the Regulator’s findings that the worker did not understand her condition until it was diagnosed in March 2020, and subsequently acted reasonably in lodging her claim.

President Davis considered the appeal was therefore not one grounded in any alleged factual error, nor unable to establish any error of law. On that basis, the appeal was dismissed.

Implications for you

The decision demonstrates that while the relevant timeframe to lodge a claim effectively may begin from the time the injury is first assessed, the circumstances of the case in its entirety must be considered in determining whether that time limit may be waived due to a mistake or reasonable cause.

The University of Queensland v Workers’ Compensation Regulator [2022] ICQ 018

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