Injured worker receives nearly $1,000,000 in common law damages
Hall Payne Lawyers secures a worker’s compensation common law judgment in the sum of $967,383.39 for an injured worker who fell through a roof of a shed, sustaining significant injuries. The result in Walker v Greenmountain Food Processing Pty Ltd  QSC 329 was a deserved one for the worker who suffered significant injuries in a traumatic workplace accident but continues to work in an alternative role.
The injured worker, Mr Walker, was employed at a meat processing plant in 2015, owned by his employer, Greenmountain Food Processing Pty Ltd (“Greenmountain”). He was 32 years old at the time and was employed as the maintenance manager of the plant. The position involved management of the repairs and upgrades of the plant, management of employees and ensuring the machinery was running smoothly.
Greenmountain engaged contractors, PBQ, who undertook maintenance on the boilers at the plant. Mr Walker, as maintenance manager, oversaw the maintenance of the plant and the boilers. The boilers were essential to the running of the plant.
How was the worker injured?
Mr Walker was on his way home at about 5.00 pm on a winter’s night after meeting with a co-worker outside of work. It was becoming dark, and he was driving past the plant when he noticed plumes of steam coming from the rendering shed. He attended the rendering shed, as the light was beginning to fade, to investigate what was causing the steam.
PBQ were scheduled to attend the plant the next day for regular maintenance, and Mr Walker called Mr Butler from PBQ to discuss the issue and see what needed to be done.
Mr Walker went up the stairs outside the shed to access a platform between the roof and the tanks, trying to examine the defect. There was no rail preventing access to the roof from this platform and no sign warning of risk. Nor were there any bollards blocking off the access point.
Mr Butler talked him through the potential issues over the phone and said it would be important to know which valve was leaking so it could be repaired. Unable to see from where he was in the failing light, Mr Walker accessed the roof from the platform whilst still on the phone with Mr Butler.
He was aware at the time that there was alsynite sheeting on the roof of the shed. Alsynite is a transparent fibreglass material designed to let light into the shed. A hole in the roof repaired previously had been covered over with alsynite. The material was not appropriate for weight bearing. Mr Walker knew there was alsynite somewhere on the roof but was not aware of the precise location. Unable to see in the failing light, he stepped on the alsynite which gave way, sending him down into the shed and onto the concrete 7 metres below.
As a result, he lost consciousness, sustained fractures to his skull, injuries to his spine, wrist and knees, and subsequently was determined to have sustained a brain injury.
Worker sues employer for common law damages
After he received entitlements through a statutory worker’s compensation claim, Mr Butler subsequently sued his employer, Greenmountain, due to their failure to provide a safe work environment and their breach of duty of care.
In Queensland, if you’ve been injured at work and you believe your employer’s negligence contributed to your injuries, you can sue for damages. Common law damages include, inter alia, compensation for:
- pain and suffering;
- past and future wages or economic loss;
- past and future medical expenses.
Greenmountain defended the common law claim and the matter proceeded to trial.
The employer’s defence
At trial, the employer raised a number of issues in their defence of the claim, including:
- That there was no breach of duty – based on the argument that it was not reasonably foreseeable that Mr Walker would access the roof; and
- There was contributory negligence on the part of Mr Walker in accessing the roof.
The employer raised the fact that Mr Walker attended the roof of the shed outside his work hours and in failing light. They contended this was not part of his normal duties.
It was argued that access to the roof was generally not required by staff. They pointed out that he did so while speaking on a mobile phone. They also argued that Mr Walker had consumed a beer prior to the incident while meeting with his friend and that he had failed to mention this to Workplace Health and Safety.
Findings by the Court
The Supreme Court of Queensland ultimately found for Mr Walker, finding:
- that Greenmountain staff had accessed the roof previously and might be expected to access the roof for certain tasks;
- it was expected that a person in Mr Walker’s role might find a need to access the roof;
- the nature of his work and the production would mean this may occur outside normal shift hours;
- there may be a sense of urgency for the access – such as attending to urgent repairs affecting production;
- that the presence of alsynite on the roof meant there was a risk to a person accessing the area of falling through said alsynite;
- that it would have been a simple matter for the employer to guard against such risks, including by means of training, a safe work method statement for working at heights, or a sign at the entry of the roof from the platform – none of which had been undertaken or installed; and
- that Mr Walker’s actions did not meet the threshold for contributory negligence.
The Court found in favour of Mr Walker and determined the employer had breached its duty of care to Mr Walker and that breach had caused his injuries.
The Court awarded Mr Walker the sum of $967,383.39 by way of common law damages.
The Court commented that it was a:
‘case of a worker who did not disobey a direction and who was acting under pressure. The circumstances presented a fertile field for inadvertence.’
Get help from a worker's compensation lawyer
Hall Payne Lawyers are proud to have represented Mr Walker and assisted in obtaining a successful and substantial judgment for a deserving claimant.
If you’ve had a workplace injury and you believe your employer’s negligence contributed to your injuries, you may be entitled to pursue common law damages. You can contact one of our award-winning worker’s compensation lawyers for advice and assistance.
Contacting Hall Payne Lawyers
You can contact us by phone or email to arrange your consultation, either face-to-face at one of our offices, by telephone or by videoconference consultation.
This article relates to Australian law; either at a State or Federal level.
The information contained on this site is for general guidance only. No person should act or refrain from acting on the basis of such information. Appropriate professional advice should be sought based upon your particular circumstances. For further information, please do not hesitate to contact Hall Payne Lawyers.