Kate Denning

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Kate Denning

Kate is the Founder & Principal of Denning Insurance Law. Kate opened her own practice out of a desire to deliver high value, specialised legal services. With top tier and in-house experience, her passion for delivering great results, approachable manner and breadth of experience, set her apart from her competitors.

Joyriding passenger fails in claim against driver of stolen vehicle

Case note: Captain v Wosomo [2017] QSC 86

One recent decision of the Queensland Supreme Court is a warning to Plaintiffs who seek damages for injuries suffered while engaged in criminal behaviour – you claim may be doomed to failure.

The Facts

In February 2013 four boys stole a Toyota Hilux for a joyride in Townsville. The Plaintiff (then aged 14) was a passenger in the vehicle and the Defendant (then aged 16) was the driver.

At least one of the passengers in the vehicle yelled at the driver to slow down just before the Defendant lost control of the vehicle at an intersection.  At this time, the vehicle was traveling between 80 and 90 km/h.  The vehicle crashed into a light pole and the Plaintiff suffered severe head injuries.  The Plaintiff and other boys in the vehicle were not wearing seatbelts at the time of the crash.

The Plaintiff’s guardian brought a claim on his behalf in accordance with the Motor Accident Insurance Act 1994 (Qld) against the driver of the stolen car.

The Issues

The trial concerned liability only. The issues in dispute included:

  • whether the Defendant owed the Plaintiff a duty of care;
  • whether the Plaintiff was engaged in conduct that was an indictable offence at the time of the crash for the purposes of section 45 of the Civil Liability Act 2003 (Qld);
  • whether it would be harsh and unjust to deprive the Plaintiff of an award of damages under section 45(2);
  • whether there was a voluntary assumption of risk by the Plaintiff;
  • whether the Plaintiff had engaged in a dangerous recreation activity;
  • whether the Plaintiff had been contributorily negligent by failing to wear a seatbelt.

The Judgment

Justice Daubney held that the Plaintiff was jointly complicit in the stealing of the vehicle. Counsel for the Plaintiff argued that he withdrew from the criminal enterprise when he yelled at the driver to stop. This argument was not accepted by the Court as the yelling was an attempt to stop the driver speeding but was not an attempt to withdraw from the ongoing theft of the vehicle.  The facts of this case were distinguished from the High Court’s decision in Miller v Miller (2011) 242 CLR 446, where the Plaintiff had made clear and repeated requests to get out of a stolen vehicle.

Justice Daubney held that to demonstrate withdrawal from a joint illegal enterprise, the Plaintiff would have to establish:

  • something more than mere mental change of intention; and
  • timely communication of the withdrawal; and
  • that he took such action as he could reasonably take to undo the effect of his previous encouragement or participation,

and, he could not do so.

In this case, the ongoing criminal activity at the time of the crash and the Plaintiff’s failure to withdraw from that conduct led the Court to conclude that the Defendant did not owe the Plaintiff a duty of care. Accordingly, the Plaintiff was unsuccessful.

Criminal conduct

The judgment also addressed the application of section 45 of the CLA to the claim. Section 45 of the CLA states:

‘(1) A person does not incur civil liability if the court is satisfied on the balance of probabilities that-

(a) The breach of duty from which civil liability would arise, apart from this section, happened while the person who suffered harm was engaged in conduct that is an indictable offence; and

(b) The person’s conduct contributed materially to the risk of the harm.

(2) Despite subsection (1), the court may award damages in a particular case if satisfied that in the circumstances of the case, subsection (1) would operate harshly and unjustly.’

Although it was not necessary to make findings in relation to section 45, Justice Daubney held that:

  • The suffering of personal injury was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the illegal conduct in which the Plaintiff was a participant – i.e. the unlawful use of the vehicle;
  • The Plaintiff materially contributed to the realisation of that risk. He was an active participant in the actual stealing of the vehicle, and went along for the joyride;
  • The Plaintiff’s damages should otherwise be reduced in accordance with section 45(3), on account of the Plaintiff’s conduct, by 50%.

Voluntary assumption of risk

Although it was not necessary to rule on this point, his Honour rejected the defence’s argument that the Plaintiff had voluntarily assumed the obvious risk of joyriding in a stolen car. Justice Daubney noted that this defence rarely succeeds and that the Defendant would be unable to demonstrate that the Plaintiff freely and voluntarily agreed to incur the risk.

Dangerous recreational activity

His Honour stated that he ‘would have been loathe to find that s 19 is applicable in the current case’ and given the specific application of the section 45 defence, the Court took the view that its application excluded a finding that the Plaintiff was engaged in a dangerous recreational activity.

Failure to wear a seatbelt

In further obiter, Justice Daubney accepted the medical evidence that it would not have been possible for the Plaintiff to sustain the head injuries he suffered, if he had been wearing a seatbelt.  His Honour was satisfied that the Plaintiff was therefore contributorily negligent, although the Court was not required to rule on this point as the Defendant owed no duty of care to the Plaintiff.  His Honour said that if a duty of care were owed to the Plaintiff, he would have reduced the damages awarded to the Plaintiff by 65% because of both the contributory negligence of the Plaintiff (15%) and the criminal conduct that the Plaintiff was engaged in (50%).

Considerations

This decision will be of interest to parties involved in claims for ‘harm’ involving criminal conduct.

The judgment is the first reported Queensland case to consider the application of section 45 in the context of a passenger injured during the unlawful use of a vehicle. It case will be of particular interest to compulsory third party insurers.

It is clear from this decision that it will be difficult for plaintiffs travelling in stolen vehicles to establish that a duty of care is owed to them. And if they can, they will be faced with a section 45 defence and any other defences available to the compulsory third party insurer.

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Kate DenningJoyriding passenger fails in claim against driver of stolen vehicle
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Fatigue Case | Plaintiff recovers $1.25M in Queensland journey claim

Case note: Kerle v BM Alliance Coal Operations Pty Ltd [2016] QSC 304

In the case of Kerle v BM Alliance Coal Operations Pty Ltd, the Supreme Court of Queensland considered the issues of work related fatigue, the duty of a mine operator to a worker and the question of whether a labour hire worker could be a servant of its host employer pro hac vice (for one occasion only), allowing the labour hire employer to shift responsibility for a worker to their host employer.

The doctrine of pro hac vice has the effect of deeming that someone is an employee of a company using the services of the person ‘for the time being’ or ‘for the occasion’. In negligence and workers’ compensation cases, successfully arguing pro hac vice will see an employer transfer their responsibility for a worker to another party. However, as this case illustrates, there is a heavy burden upon an employer who attempts to shift responsibility for a worker.

The Facts

Kerle was an employee of Axial HR Pty Ltd (Axial), a labour hire firm.  He was as a dump truck operator at the Norwich Park Mine near Dysart in Central Queensland.  His host employer was HMP Constructions Pty Ltd (HMP). BM Alliance Coal Operations Pty Ltd (BMA) was the mine operator.

In October 2008, at the end of four overnight 12-hour shifts, Kerle began driving to his home in Monto (more than 400 km away from the mine) and apparently fell asleep at the wheel some 300 km into his journey.  At the time of the accident, Kerle had been awake for 17 to 19 hours. Kerle’s vehicle swerved onto the right-hand of the road, hit a rail and then a concrete wall, resulting in significant injuries to Kerle, including a brain injury.

Kerle brought claims in negligence against Axial, HMP and BMA; on the basis that each company owed him a duty of care that had been breached.

The Issues

At trial, the Court considered issues such as:

  • fatigue and the other factors which could possibly have led to the accident;
  • whether Kerle was contributorily negligent, by starting or continuing the journey without sufficient rest;
  • which of the Defendants owed a duty of care to Mr Kerle;
  • how damages should be apportioned between those Defendants.

The Judgment

Justice McMeekin recognised that Kerle was an honest witness but that there were significant evidentiary problems with Kerle’s evidence because of his fatigue at the time of the accident and the head injuries he suffered.  However, the Court ultimately decided in his favour and awarded damages against his employer as well as against HMP and BMA.

Kerle’s employer, Axial, argued that Kerle was under the ‘effective control and supervision’ of HMP, and that HMP was therefore the employer pro hac vice.  In rejecting this argument, Justice McMeekin referred to the English case of Mersey Docks Harbour Board v Coggins & Griffiths (Liverpool) Ltd noting that the burden of proving an entity is an employer pro hac vice is very difficult and ‘can only be discharged in exceptional circumstances’, where the ‘entire and absolute control’ over the employee had passed to the second employer.  Justice McMeekin found that, in Kerle’s case, entire and absolute control had not passed from Axial to HMP, and that HMP was therefore not the employer pro hac vice.  The facts relied upon by His Honour in arriving at this decision were that:

  • the Plaintiff’s employment required him to report to both a site supervisor of HMP and Axial, providing him with the contact details for both;
  • it was a condition of his employment that he contact an Axial supervisor if he was unable to work on a particular day or if he was injured;
  • the Plaintiff was required to comply with Axial’s code of conduct while on site or at accommodation provided by the client; and
  • it was the, ‘policy of Axial to monitor and control the fatigue levels of employees at work, particularly when working extended hours’.

The Court found that responsibility for Mr Kerle’s injuries should be apportioned between Axial, HMP and BMA, to the Defendants as follows:

  • 36% (to Axial – employer);
  • 54% (to HMP – host employer); and
  • 10% (to BMA – mine operator).

The Court awarded damages to Kerle in the sum of $1.25M.

BMA’s Duty of Care

One significant aspect of the judgment was the finding that BMA, the mine operator, owed a duty of care to the Plaintiff.

His Honour found that it was not appropriate to limit consideration of whether a duty of care was owed to the usual circumstances in which a duty might be owed by a principal to an independent contractor (as per Stevens v Brodribb Sawmilling Co Pty Ltd or Leighton Contractors Pty Ltd v Fox), because:

  • The risk of personal injury in Stevens arose from the organising of activities between different contractors and that was not the risk here;
  • The Plaintiff was not injured when carrying out a specialised task that fell within the expertise of HMP or Axial;
  • BMA had detailed knowledge of the safety issues surrounding managing workplace fatigue; and
  • The risk did ‘not arise from the physical exigencies of the workplace or directly from the manner in which the work was performed by either Axial’s employees or any other contractor’. BMA brought the risk into being by its insistence on the consecutive 12-hour night shifts. And otherwise, statements of principle by Justices Brennan and Mason in Stevens, supported the imposition of a duty where the principal created the risk.

Taking into account these matters, including the features of the relationship between the Plaintiff and BMA, the Court was satisfied that BMA owed the Plaintiff a duty of care.

Contributory Negligence

Justice McMeekin accepted that fatigue was the most likely cause of the accident and rejected the Defendants’ argument that Kerle was contributorily negligent.  In doing so, the judgment addressed the allegations of the Defendants on contributory negligence, finding most notably:

  • There was no specific instruction by the Defendants to Kerle not to operate a vehicle when fatigued;
  • Kerle was not aware that he could use the accommodation at the site to rest after he had completed his last shift;
  • Kerle’s decision to embark upon the drive knowing that he had not rested and after completing his fourth consecutive night shift, illustrated his lack of understanding about fatigue.

Considerations

Principally, Kerle’s case is significant because it is one of a small number of Australian decisions which has considered workplace fatigue and related system failures in recent years. It will be of interest to employers and businesses operating in a number of industries (e.g. mining, oil & gas, transport) where workers travel for extended periods or, work long consecutive shifts on a FIFO basis. The case may also be of interest to compulsory third party insurers.

Secondly, it reinforces established law that employers, such as labour hire companies who provide labour to other companies, will not find it easy defend a claim on the basis that the employee was a servant pro hac vice of another entity.

And finally, it is of interest because the mine operator was found to have owed the Plaintiff a duty of care. This finding will be of particular interest to parties involved in multi-party disputes in mining, construction, oil & gas and infrastructure.

A full copy of the Court’s decision can be downloaded here.

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Kate DenningFatigue Case | Plaintiff recovers $1.25M in Queensland journey claim
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Pool tragedy caused by failure to warn of diving danger

Pool tragedy caused by failure to warn of diving danger

Case note: Lennon v Gympie Motel [2016] QSC 315

The Supreme Court of Queensland found the Gympie Motel 85% liable for injuries suffered by a girl who was rendered tetraplegic after diving into the Motel’s pool. The decision (delivered on 22 December 2016) is a timely reminder that businesses with pools and swimming facilities must take appropriate care for the safety of users. The judgment may also be used as a guide for businesses when considering the types of signage to display to adequately warn entrants of a risk of injury from diving.

The accident happened in 1998, when the girl was aged 12.

The Facts

On 21 February 1998, Karla Lennon, her mother and siblings stayed at the Motel. The family had not stayed there before.

The Motel had an in-ground pool. The pool was 10 metres by 5.2 metres, with an internal width of 4.5 metres. Its depth went from 0.9 metres to 1.74 metres. The pool was fenced.

There was a sign on the gate to the pool area which read:

‘Pool Rules

All children must be under adult supervision at all times, in pool area.’

On arriving at the Motel, Karla’s younger sister Letitia asked their mother if she could go swimming. The mother agreed and told Letitia that Karla would be in charge.

Letitia recalled that she and Karla were jumping in from different areas around the pool and gliding, to see how far they could each glide along. Letitia recalled other people present in the jacuzzi area of the pool and had a conversation with one of the people.

At one point a man said to Letitia, ‘…your sister is over there and she’s floating…’. Letitia told the man that Karla had done this before and that she was just playing a joke. The man left the pool area. Letitia realised that Karla was not responding. Emergency services attended. Karla suffered a ‘hypoxic brain injury secondary to immersion due to a cervical spine injury’.

Letitia (who was 7 years of age at the time) gave evidence about the circumstances leading up to the incident at the trial. There was no direct evidence at trial about the incident. Karla had no recollection of the event.

The Plaintiff’s Case

It was Karla’s case that:

(1) she knew not to dive into shallow water or pools in which she could not judge the depth;

(2) she intentionally dived into the pool, striking her head, and did not appreciate the depth of the pool;

(3) the Motel failed to warn her about the depth of the pool by having a ‘no diving’ sign or depth markers, or both;

(4) if the Motel had erected signage, warning users of the pool as to either its depth or that diving was prohibited, Karla would not have dived into the pool.

The Defendant’s Case

It was the Motel’s case that:

(1) there was insufficient evidence for the Court to conclude how Karla’s injuries occurred;

(2) the absence of depth markers or a no diving sign did not constitute a breach of duty because of the obviousness of the risk of diving into the pool;

(3) Karla was outgoing, oppositional and, even if a no diving sign or depth marker were present, she would have done exactly what she did;

(4) the foreseeability of any risks of injury were adequately addressed by the sign requiring adult supervision;

(5) Karla contributed to her own injuries.

The Judgment

Both parties led evidence about Karla’s character. The Court ultimately accepted submissions made on Karla’s behalf, that she was a responsible and mature child. In arriving at this conclusion, the Court took into account that:

(1) Karla had previously travelled by train, bus and water taxi to Stradbroke Island for 2 years prior to the incident, every weekend, during the school term and, without adult supervision;

(2) Karla worked in her mother’s second-hand store, serving customers, for up to three to four hours;

(3) Karla would travel with her father, who owned a trucking and logistics business, and she would take messages and write cheques; and

(4) Karla’s friend’s mother allowed Karla and her daughter to swim, unsupervised, at the beach.

The Court was satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that Karla’s injuries were in fact caused by her diving into the pool and striking her head on the bottom of the pool. In arriving at this conclusion, the Court relied heavily upon the opinion of Dr Tuffley, who considered it was ‘highly probable, and certainly more probable than not’, that this was the cause of Karla’s injury.

The Court accepted that if the Motel had displayed a no diving sign, that Karla would have obeyed that warning. This was despite the fact that it was Karla’s evidence that she would have obeyed an instruction from her mother not to dive into the pool. Having regard to her character, the Court did not consider it was unreasonable for Karla not to be supervised by her mother in the pool.

The Court found that the duty of care owed by the Motel to Karla extended to take care for the safety of the persons using the pool and that the Motel breached its duty of care by failing to take the precautions (of displaying a no diving sign or a depth marker, or both) to warn guests who may misjudge the depth of the pool. Displaying the adult supervision sign did not discharge the Motel’s duty to the Plaintiff in this instance. The Court had regard to Australian Standards which state that, ‘[u]nless specifically designed for diving, private pools should not be used for that purpose’ and accepted the Plaintiff’s submission that there was no safe place to dive in the pool.

A deduction of 15% was allowed for the Plaintiff’s own negligence, having regard to the fact that while she was found to have dived in the deeper area of the pool and had been diving safely into the pool without incident for 10-15 minutes beforehand, she had a general awareness of the dangers associated with diving.

Considerations

This judgment will be of interest to pool owners and businesses with swimming facilities. The decision may be used as authority for the kinds of precautions that may be reasonably required of a commercial facility to address the risk of people diving into shallow water. However, it should not be taken as authority for the proposition that an absence of parental supervision will be superseded by an owner’s failure to warn of risks. The disposition of the Plaintiff was a key feature of the judgment in this case. There have been changes in the law since this incident occurred and similar circumstances, with a Plaintiff of a different maturity level, could produce a different result.

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Kate DenningPool tragedy caused by failure to warn of diving danger
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Interstate Insurers and the National Injury Insurance (Qld) Act 2016 (Qld)

Interstate Insurers and the National Injury Insurance (Qld) Act 2016 (Qld)

National Injury Insurance Scheme – National Injury Insurance Scheme Act – National Injury Insurance Scheme Queensland – National Injury Insurance Scheme Levy – NIIS NDIS – NIIS Qld – CTP Insurance Law – CTP Insurance Lawyer – Motor Accident Insurance Act – Motor Accident Insurance Commission Qld – Motor Accident Insurance Regulation

Background

As of 1 July 2016, Queensland has a no-fault scheme for treatment, care and support for eligible persons who suffer serious personal injury caused by, through or in connection with the:

  • driving;
  • collision, or action to avoid a collision;
  • running out of control; or
  • defect causing loss of control,

of a prescribed vehicle, within Queensland.

The National Injury Insurance (Qld) Act 2016 (Qld) (NIISQA) was introduced to meet Queensland’s obligation to address the agreed federal benchmarks for the provision of treatment, care and support to persons involved in road accidents who suffer serious personal injury. The NIISQA does not affect the common law rights of Claimants for at-fault compulsory third party claims. However, the meaning of the term ‘insurer’ under the NIISQA will see the legislation operate differently in claims against interstate compulsory third party (CTP) insurers (Interstate Insurers), compared with claims against Queensland licensed insurers.

The NIISQA will be administered by the National Injury Insurance Agency, Queensland (Agency).

Meaning of ‘insurer’

The dictionary in the NIISQA defines certain words used in the Act.

The word ‘insurer’ is a word that is defined. Under the NIISQA:

insurer means an insurer under the statutory insurance scheme under the [Motor Accident Insurance Act 1994 (Qld)].’

The Motor Accident Insurance Act 1994 (Qld) (MAIA) defines the statutory insurance scheme as, ‘the insurance scheme established by [the] Act’: section 4.

Several sections in the MAIA refer to the ‘statutory insurance scheme’.  Those sections concern such matters as:

  • the obligations of licensed insurers;
  • the statutory insurance scheme levy;
  • the industry deed;
  • the functions of the Motor Accident Insurance Commission; and
  • premium rates,

and other matters that are of no consequence to Interstate Insurers.

Interstate Insurers are not, ‘insurers under the statutory scheme under the [MAIA]’.  The Transport Accident Commission (Vic) is the insurer under the statutory scheme under the Transport Accident Act 1986 (Vic).  The Territory Insurance Office (NT) administers the Motor Accidents Compensation (MAC) Scheme under the Motor Accidents (Compensation) Act 1979 (NT).  The Motor Accident Insurance Board (Tas) administers the funding and payment under Tasmania’s scheme.

While claims for damages against these Interstate Insurers are regulated by the pre-court procedures of the MAIA, those Interstate Insurers are ‘insurers’ under their own schemes; with their own statutory policies of insurance.

When an Interstate Insurer is an ‘insurer’ under the NIISQA

Under section 32AA of the Acts Interpretation Act 1954 (Qld) (AIA) a definition in an Act applies to an entire Act.  However, under section 32A of the AIA, a definition in an Act applies except so far as the context or subject matter otherwise indicates or requires.

So, if the context or subject matter of a particular section or part of the Act requires; the term ‘insurer’ could be interpreted to mean Interstate Insurers.

Section 102 is an example of a provision which requires that the word ‘insurer’ be a reference to Interstate Insurers. Under section 102, the Agency may recover, as a debt, the present day value of a participant’s future treatment, care and support from the ‘insurer’ under an interstate CTP policy of a vehicle at-fault.

A comparison between sections 42 and sections 102 of the Act, shows that the word ‘insurer’ has taken on two meanings within the Act. Section 42 provides that the Agency may be liable to contribute to the liability of an ‘insurer’. It could not have been Parliament’s intention for the Agency to be obliged, on the one hand, to contribute to the liability of an Interstate Insurer and, on the other, entitled to seek recovery from them.

Claims involving Interstate Insurers

Apart from under section 102, the word ‘insurer’ under the NIISQA does not appear to extend to Interstate Insurers. This does not detract from the obligation of the Agency to pay for the treatment, care and support of participants under the NIISQA.

With the word ‘insurer’ under the NIISQA limited to licensed insurers, the Agency has no obligation to contribute towards the liability of Interstate Insurers, against which common law claims are made. Accordingly, Claimants may pursue those Interstate Insurers for the total of their damages (apart from amounts already paid by the Agency) in the usual way. However, the Agency is authorised to pursue Interstate Insurers for recovery of the present day value of any future treatment, care and support required by the Claimant.

Interstate Insurers will need to consider their liability for common law damages in Queensland claims and statutory entitlements (including those under their own schemes) in the context of the NIISQA, the MAIA and any local legislation or policy applying to the vehicles registered interstate which they insure. Lawyers for Claimants will need to provide different advice to their clients as to the process under the Act, depending on the identity of the Insurer.

BOOK A FREE CONSULTATION to discuss your personal injury matter by calling (07) 3067 3025 or complete the online enquiry form below.

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Kate DenningInterstate Insurers and the National Injury Insurance (Qld) Act 2016 (Qld)
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Workers’ compensation changes to affect contribution claims

Workers’ compensation changes to affect contribution claims

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On 14 June 2016, the Queensland Parliament introduced the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation (National Injury Insurance Scheme) Amendment Bill 2016 (Qld) (Bill).

On 31 August, the Bill was passed (with amendments) that will constrain contractual indemnity clauses in workers’ compensation claims.

The Bill

The Bill is part of a broader social reform which includes the establishment of the National Injury Insurance Scheme for Queenslanders.

The Bill set out to restore the original policy intent of the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld) (WCRA) and provide certainty to stakeholders after recent Court decisions interpreted certain provisions of the WCRA in ways that could adversely affect the operation of the scheme.

The Amendment

Clause 31: which will amend Chapter 5 of the WCRA states as follows:

‘236B Liability of contributors

(1) This section applies to an agreement between an employer and another person under which the employer indemnifies the other person for any legal liability of the person to pay damages for injury sustained by a worker.

(2) The agreement does not prevent the insurer from adding the other person as a contributor under section 278A in relation to the employer’s liability or the insurer’s liability for the worker’s injury. 

(3) The agreement is void to the extent it provides for the employer, or has the effect of requiring the employer, to indemnify the other person for any contribution claim made by the insurer against the other person.

(4) In this section-

damages includes damages under a legal liability existing independently of this Act, whether or not within the meaning of section 10.’

The Bill also proposed to amend the definition of damages under section 10 of the WCRA, however, a motion in the parliament to change the definition was defeated.

For Parties 

This amendment will mean that if:

  • a common law claim has been made against an employer; and,
  • the employer agreed to indemnify another party for that party’s legal liability; and,
  • WorkCover Queensland brings a contribution claim against that party,

the party joined to the claim will be unable to enforce their contractual indemnity clause to neutralise the contribution claim.

In many claims, the addition of section 236B(3) will allow contribution claims to be made by WorkCover, with third parties constrained in their ability to enforce indemnities against employers. However, the application of section 236B in a claim will depend upon:

  • who the parties to the relevant agreement are; and
  • the wording of the indemnity.

For instance, in an agreement where:

  • the parent company of an employer grants indemnity to a party; and
  • the agreement was not between the ’employer’ and the other party,

but the employer is referred to as part of a ‘contractor group’ or otherwise in the agreement, then section 236B may not apply to the agreement. In such a case, an entity related to the employer (such as a parent company) may remain liable for the indemnity granted to the other party.

Otherwise, the new Section 236B(3) may not operate to defeat actions in contract against employers by other parties (e.g. for breach of warranty or, for breach of an obligation to insure).

Once enacted, the amendment will apply to existing claims; if a settlement for damages has not been agreed or, a trial has not commenced.

To read the Bill in full, click here. To read the Queensland Parliament’s third reading speech, click here.

BOOK A FREE CONSULTATION for advice and information about your rights and obligations in a workers’ compensation matter, by calling (07) 3067 3025 or contact us online.

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Kate DenningWorkers’ compensation changes to affect contribution claims
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What happens if you don’t have workers’ compensation insurance?

What happens if you don’t have workers’ compensation insurance?

Contract Workers Compensation Insurance – Do you have to pay workers compensation for independent contractors – How to fight workers compensation – Uninsured Employer Workers Compensation – Who is a worker? – Who is an employee? – WorkCover Qld Contractors – Workers Comp Lawyer for Employer – Workers Compensation Process – Workers Compensation Penalty – Workers Compensation Insurance 

 

The labour market has changed considerably in recent years. We’ve seen an explosion of apps and websites that help businesses outsource services. It seems as though most of us are now consultants/freelancers/contractors of some description! In the construction industry alone, it’s not unusual to see services sub-contracted down the line through several entities before the first nail is hammered.

So, in this new world where everyone (and yet no one) is a boss – what happens with workers’ compensation insurance? And more importantly – what are the consequences of being uninsured?

Obligation to insure

In Queensland, an employer must, for each worker employed, insure and remain insured, for their legal liability to pay compensation and damages to their workers: section 48 of the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld).

Workers vs contractors

The WCRA defines ‘workers’ for the purpose of workers’ compensation.

Under the Act, a worker is a person that is employed under a contract and who is an employee for the purpose of assessment for PAYG withholding under the Taxation Administration Act 1953 (Cth). Schedule 2 of the WCRA expands that definition, identifying particular circumstances where a person will be considered a worker.

Determining whether a person is a worker (and therefore whether a business is required to hold workers’ compensation insurance) is not always straightforward. Businesses should not assume that they are relieved from their obligation to insure, simply because they engage contractors instead of employees. Each arrangement a business has with an individual is often unique. A person who an employer considers is a contractor, may actually be a worker for workers’ compensation purposes.

Consequences of failing to insure

If an employer fails to take out workers’ compensation insurance within 5 business days of employing any worker or workers, WorkCover Queensland may impose a penalty of $33,522.50 (275 penalty units).

Recovery of compensation and unpaid premium

If a claim is made against an employer that holds no workers’ compensation insurance in Queensland, that claim will be managed by WorkCover. WorkCover is the statutory insurer and only WorkCover can pay compensation and damages to a worker.

Under section 57 of the WCRA, WorkCover may recover, from the employer, amounts that it has paid to a worker as compensation and damages. WorkCover may also recover from the employer a penalty equal to 50% of the amounts paid, as well as the unpaid premium.

Example workers’ compensation recovery

So what financial risk is posed to an employer that holds no workers’ compensation insurance? The below example illustrates the potential threat posed by a claim in Queensland:

Weekly compensation and medical benefits paid: $100,000

Common law damages paid: $500,000

Total: $600,000

Penalty (50% x $600,000): $300,000

Potential recovery: $900,000 + unpaid premium + $33,522.50 (penalty for failing to insure)

For businesses

Businesses that engage the services of individuals (including sole traders) should consider their obligation to hold workers’ compensation insurance. The cost of workers’ compensation premiums is dwarfed by the financial consequences of an uninsured claim.

BOOK A FREE CONSULTATION for advice and information about your rights and obligations in a workers’ compensation matter, by calling (07) 3067 3025 or contact us online.

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Workers’ compensation changes to affect contractual indemnities

Workers’ compensation changes to affect contractual indemnities

Workers Compensation Qld – Workers Compensation Legislation Qld – Workers Compensation Lawyers Brisbane – Workers Compensation Law – Workers Compensation and Rehabilitation Act – Workers Compensation Insurance – Workers Compensation Scheme – Contractual Obligations – Contractual Indemnities – Contractual Interpretation Australia – Contractual Indemnification – Contractual Disputes – Workers Compensation Regulator

 

On 14 June 2016, the Queensland Parliament introduced the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation (National Injury Insurance Scheme) Amendment Bill 2016 (Qld) (Bill).

The Bill

The Bill is part of a broader social reform which includes the establishment of the National Injury Insurance Scheme for Queenslanders, to commence from 1 July 2016.

The Bill proposes to restore the original policy intent of the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld) (WCRA) and provide certainty to stakeholders after recent Court decisions have interpreted certain provisions of the WCRA in ways that could adversely affect the operation of the scheme.

If passed, the legislation will prevent employers from securing cover under their workers’ compensation insurance policies for contractual indemnities they have given to third parties for damages payable to workers. In the first reading speech for the Bill, the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations said:

‘The Bill prevents the contractual transfer of liability for injury costs from principal contractors or host employers to employers with a workers’ compensation insurance policy such as subcontractors or labour hire employers and clarifies that an insurer will not be liable to indemnify an employer for a liability to pay damages incurred by a third party contractor under a contractual arrangement.’

The Amendments

The relevant sections of the Bill that will impact contractual liabilities are:

  • Clause 5: which proposes to amend the ‘Meaning of Damages’ in Section 10 of the WCRA to say:

‘(4) Further, a reference in subsection (1) to the liability of an employer does not include a liability to pay damages, for injury sustained by a worker, arising from an indemnity granted by the employer to another person for the other person’s legal liability to pay damages to the worker for the injury.’

  • And Clause 31: which will amend Chapter 5 of the WCRA as follows:

‘236B Liability of contributors

(1) This section applies to an agreement between an employer and another person under which the employer indemnifies the other person for any legal liability of the person to pay damages for injury sustained by a worker.

(2) The agreement does not prevent the insurer from adding the other person as a contributor under section 278A in relation to the employer’s liability or the insurer’s liability for the worker’s injury. 

(3) The agreement is void to the extent it provides for the employer, or has the effect of requiring the employer, to indemnify the other person for any contribution claim made by the insurer against the other person.

(4) In this section-

damages includes damages under a legal liability existing independently of this Act, whether or not within the meaning of section 10.’

For Employers

These amendments will mean that WorkCover Queensland will only be liable to indemnify an employer to the extent of the employer’s legal liability to the worker for damages under the WCRA. So, if an employer agrees to indemnify another party for damages beyond its legal liability under the WCRA, the workers’ compensation policy will not extend to cover those damages.

The changes may result in some employers exposed to liabilities for which they hold no insurance. However, in many claims, the addition of Section 236B(3) will allow contribution claims to be made by WorkCover, with third parties constrained in their ability to enforce indemnities against employers. What is unclear from the Bill and the WCRA, is whether an employer could secure cover for their liability to indemnify another party for ‘compensation’ under the WCRA (as opposed to ‘damages’). Also, the new Section 236B(3) may not operate to defeat actions in contract against employers by third parties (e.g. for breach of warranty or, for breach of an obligation to insure).

The industries that are most likely to be affected by the changes include: construction; mining; resources; and, transport. With these amendments, and the extension of the unfair contract terms regime to small businesses later this year, employers may wish to consider updating their service agreements to limit the risks to their business and follow current developments in the law.

The changes may see a rise in the number of employers requiring independent legal representation in common law claims. An employer who has agreed to indemnify another party may require independent legal advice about their contractual obligations, rights under the WCRA, the worker’s entitlements to damages under multiple regimes, apportionment and costs.

The Parliament has nominated the Finance and Administration Committee to consider the Bill.  To read the Bill in full, click here.  To read the Queensland Parliament’s first reading speech, click here.

BOOK A FREE CONSULTATION for advice and information about a workers’ compensation or contractual indemnity dispute, by calling (07) 3067 3025 or contact us online.

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Kate DenningWorkers’ compensation changes to affect contractual indemnities
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How to Detect Fraud in Personal Injury Claims

How to Detect Fraud in Personal Injury Claims

Fraud – Insurance Fraud – Fraud Qld – Detect Fraud – Fraudulent Misrepresentation – Insurance Fraud Investigation – Insurance Fraud Reporting – Insurance Fraud Cases – Insurance Fraud Penalties Qld – Insurance Fraud Definition – Dispute Insurance Claim

Insurance fraud has been estimated to account for about 10% of general insurance costs in Australia ($2B annually). This doesn’t take into account undetected fraud.

Some people may take the view that insurance fraud is a victim-less crime. But most would agree that money spent investigating, defending, paying or prosecuting fraudsters could be better used to reduce insurance premiums and pay genuine claims.

So what are some red flags that could suggest fraud in a personal injury claim? Here are some that we’ve identified:

Late claim

If a claim is started close to the expiration of a Plaintiff’s limitation period, then questions will arise about why the Plaintiff has taken so long to bring their claim. Check what treatment the Plaintiff has had since the event. Consider the Plaintiff’s current circumstances. Has the Plaintiff had a change in their employment status, medical advice, legal representation or personal circumstances? One or more of these things may explain why the claim has been brought late.

Delay in medical treatment

A delay in seeking medical treatment after an event is usually detected by treating health care providers and medico-legal experts. The longer that a Plaintiff delays treatment for an injury, the more difficult it may be to prove that the incident caused it. Of course, some medical conditions are characterised by a delayed onset of symptoms. So consider how similar injuries are diagnosed and treated.

Just started a job

A Plaintiff injured in a workplace just after they’ve commenced employment may come under more scrutiny than a longstanding employee. Consider the Plaintiff’s employment history. Did the Plaintiff start the job after a long period of unemployment? Were they adequately trained and supervised? Did the Plaintiff’s employment history suggest they were capable of performing the task?

Project coming to an end

If a claim is made by a Plaintiff working on a project that is approaching finalisation, the Defendant may be suspicious of the Plaintiff’s motivation for bringing their claim. Has the Plaintiff brought a claim in similar circumstances in the past? Was the Plaintiff facing other disciplinary action from the employer? If not, the Defendant’s suspicions may lead nowhere.

Retirement approaching

Claims by Plaintiffs close to retirement age will usually be managed with caution. If a Plaintiff goes from full-time to part-time employment after their injury, check if there were social security or superannuation incentives for doing so. Investigate the Plaintiff’s retirement plans and financial commitments. If a Plaintiff worked in a physical occupation, are there statistics available about the average retirement age of men/women doing that work.

Claims history

It goes without saying that a history of numerous claims will be of concern to a Defendant. Determine the seriousness of the injuries in those past claim/s and their relevance to the current one.

No witness

If there were no witnesses to an incident, then there is no one to verify a Plaintiff’s account. However, the lack of a witness will not necessarily prevent a Plaintiff from succeeding in their claim. Check whether documentary evidence could support the Plaintiff’s version. Did the Plaintiff immediately report the injury? Has the Plaintiff’s description of the incident stayed consistent over time?

No reporting

Defendants are right to be suspicious of claims for injuries that were not reported when they occurred, particularly where a workplace policy requires all incidents and injuries to be reported. Did the Plaintiff report their injury to health care providers and not the Defendant? If so, this may be adequate. Did the Plaintiff later describe the incident as involving a ‘sudden’ or ‘immediate’ onset of pain? If so, why didn’t they report their injury?

Limited treatment

How much treatment has the Plaintiff received for their injuries since the event? Check whether the Plaintiff’s records contain references to other conditions. Is there limited references to the injuries for which damages are claimed? If other conditions dominate the treating records or a Plaintiff has had little treatment, then Defendants may query the extent of the impact that the injury has had on the Plaintiff’s life.

Holidays

It’s a widely held belief in personal injury litigation that: a Plaintiff able to travel; is also able to work. Defendants will be suspicious of Plaintiffs that go on holidays after suffering an injury, which is apparently so serious, that they cannot work. If possible, find out when the Plaintiff made their travel arrangements. Was it before or after the event? What kind of holiday did the Plaintiff go on?

For Defendants

Defendants should use red flags like these to detect fraud and limit their exposure to damages, legal costs and rises in insurance premiums. The sooner that fraud is detected, the faster that parties can dispose of a claim.

However, these red flags do feature in lots of personal injuries claims. So, one of these in isolation doesn’t necessarily mean that a Plaintiff is bringing a fraudulent claim. It may simply be that the Plaintiff needs to offer a satisfactory explanation.

BOOK A FREE CONSULTATION for advice and information about fraud in a personal injury matter, by calling (07) 3067 3025 or contact us online.

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Kate DenningHow to Detect Fraud in Personal Injury Claims
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Liability arising from progress payment covered by insurance

Liability arising from progress payment covered by insurance

Claim for progress payment – Progress Claim Construction – D&C Construction – D&O Policy – Contract Management

Case note: Chubb Insurance Company of Australia Pty Ltd v Robinson

This was an appeal by Chubb Insurance Company of Australia Pty Ltd (Chubb) to the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia (Court). The decision of the Court concerned a preliminary issue in the case.

Mr Glenn Robinson who was employed by Reed Constructions Australia Pty Ltd (Contractor) as its Chief Operating Officer (COO) sought cover under the Contractor’s D&O Policy. Mr Robinson sought cover for his role in procuring a progress payment on behalf of the Contractor, under a design and construct contract (D&C Contract).

The Facts

In 2010, the Contractor and 470 St Kilda Road (Principal) entered into a D&C Contract for a construction project known as the ‘Leopold Project’ at 470 St Kilda Road in Melbourne.

The Contractor held a directors and officers liability policy (D&O Policy) with Chubb. Mr Robinson was an Insured under the D&O Policy.

In December 2011, the Principal asked the Contractor to provide a Statutory Declaration signed by Mr Robinson, to support the Contractor’s claim for a progress payment under the D&C Contract. Mr Robinson executed a Statutory Declaration. A progress payment was then made by the Principal to the Contractor.

The Contractor is in liquidation. The Principal commenced proceedings against Mr Robinson in 2012 claiming that:

  1. Mr Robinson did not have a reasonable basis for making the Statutory Declaration submitted in support of the progress payment.
  2. Mr Robinson engaged in conduct that was likely to mislead or deceive and acted negligently.

Mr Robinson sought indemnity under the Contractor’s D&O Policy.

The D&O Policy

Insuring clause

The D&O Policy contained the following insuring clause relating to liability cover for Insureds:

‘Executive Liability Coverage

The Company shall pay, on behalf of each Insured Person, Loss for which the Insured Person is not indemnified by an Organisation on account of any Executive Claim first made during the Policy Period or, if exercised, during the Extended Reporting Period, for a Wrongful Act occurring before or during the Policy Period.’

Exclusion clause

The D&O Policy contained an exclusion clause which read:

‘(A) Exclusions Applicable to All Insurance Clauses 

The Company shall not be liable for Loss in respect of any Claim:

Professional Services  

(v) for any actual or alleged act or omission, including but not limited to any error, misstatement, misleading statement, neglect, or breach of duty committed, attempted or allegedly committed or attempted in the rendering of, or actual or alleged failure to render any professional services to a third party.’

Chubb denied indemnity under the D&O Policy, relying upon this exclusion clause.

The Findings

At first instance, the Federal Court found that the exclusion clause did not operate to allow Chubb to exclude cover under the D&O Policy because:

  1. Mr Robinson’s conduct in signing the Statutory Declaration and procuring payment was ‘project management services’.
  2. Chubb did not establish that project management was a ‘profession’ as at 2010 or 2011. So it was not a ‘professional service’ for the purposes of the exclusion clause.

Chubb appealed the Federal Court’s decision. In the appeal judgment dated 26 February 2016, the Court agreed that project management was not a profession as at 2010 or 2011. However, the Court also found that it did not constitute the rendering of any service by either Mr Robinson or the Contractor. Rather, it was an act done in the course of proper discharge of the Contractor’s contractual obligations to the Principal. The Court was satisfied Mr Robinson’s conduct fell within the insuring clause.

Accordingly, the Court refused the appeal by Chubb because the conduct of Mr Robinson was not a professional service for the purposes of the exclusion clause.

Considerations

The outcome in this case turned on the wording of the D&O Policy, the case pleaded against Mr Robinson and the exclusion relied upon by the insurer.

However, it’s a decision that should be welcomed by insureds and principals. It illustrates the need for parties, insurance brokers and lawyers to identify when an insurance policy might respond to a contractual dispute.

BOOK A FREE CONSULTATION for advice and information about your D&O policy, by calling (07) 3067 3025 or contact us online.

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Kate DenningLiability arising from progress payment covered by insurance
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InDefence covers legal and technical issues in a general way. Changes in circumstances or the law may affect the completeness or accuracy of the information published. InDefence is not designed to express opinions on specific cases, to provide legal advice or to establish a relationship of client and lawyer between Denning Insurance Law and the reader, or any third party. No person should act or refrain from acting solely on the basis of this publication. You should seek legal advice particular to your circumstances before taking action on any issue dealt with in this blog.