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Tip truck tray injury not caused by host employer negligence

Tip truck tray injury not caused by host employer negligence

Thomas v Trades & Labour Hire Pty Ltd & Anor [2015] QSC 264

Employee Fails to Follow Instructions – Negligent Worker – Tip Truck Accident – Tailgate Accident – Workers Compensation Lawyers for Employers – Workers Compensation Lawyers Qld – Truck Injury Lawyer Blog – Truck Injury Compensation – Truck Injury Law Firm – Truck Injury Lawyers – Tailgate Truck Accident – Liability Claims Example

Facts

Mr Grant Thomas (Worker) was employed by Trades & Labour Hire Pty Ltd to work at the Gold Coast City Council (Host Employer) as a driver and operator of a tip truck (truck).  The Worker was an experienced driver and had worked around trucks for most of his working life.

The Worker took a load of broken pieces of concrete curbing in the Host Employer’s truck to the Suntown Tip at Arundel. The truck was fitted with a tipper tray, which could be raised and lowered hydraulically. The Worker decided to discharge the load under the tailgate, with it swinging on its horizontal axis.  The Worker chose this method, believing that the pieces of concrete were small enough to go under the tailgate. A sample of concrete pieces taken from the load after the incident contained pieces around 600mm wide.

He released two clasps securing the bottom of the tailgate tray from inside the truck cabin. As he was discharging the load, the Worker noticed something wrong with the tailgate. He said it looked as though one corner of the tailgate was hitting the ground. He went to inspect the issue.

The Worker pushed on the tailgate and it fell to the ground, falling on him and causing serious injury to his left foot.

Issue

The matters in issue at trial were whether:

  • the Worker had pushed the tailgate immediately prior to it falling to the ground or whether it had ‘popped off’.
  • the Host Employer had an adequate system of maintenance in place for the truck.
  • the Host Employer provided adequate training and instructions to the Worker.

Judgment

The Worker had given prior inconsistent statements about the sequence of events leading up to the tailgate falling off. He told a co-worker after the event that he had pushed on the tailgate. He also said that he pushed on the tailgate in his Notices of Claim.  However at trial, the Worker said that he was just thinking about pushing on the tailgate and didn’t actually push on it.

The Host Employer had given a written instruction to workers to ‘immediately report’ any problems with vehicles.

Expert evidence was led about whether the hinge pin, which was holding the tailgate on, was wearing prior to the incident and whether that wear should have been detected. The Court found that the crack to the hinge pin was probably caused during manufacture and present for up to six (6) months prior to the incident.

Despite this, the Court did not consider that it was reasonable for inspection of the pin to form part of any inspection or maintenance process.

The Court found that the cause of the cause of the hinge pin breaking and the tailgate falling off, was the Worker pushing on the tailgate. This was despite the evidence of the Defendants’ and Plaintiff’s engineers, that the tailgate could have fallen off without any interference by the Worker.

The Court gave judgment for the Defendants.

Considerations

This case will be of assistance to those managing claims involving workers with many years of industry experience, who disobey a written instruction by an employer. Particular emphasis was placed upon the instruction given to the Worker in the judgment. It may also be of interest to those compulsory third party insurers whose policies extend beyond driving, to the ‘use of’ a vehicle.

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Kate DenningTip truck tray injury not caused by host employer negligence
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Child fell from train after being caught between closing doors

Child fell from train after being caught between closing doors

Direct Evidence vs Indirect Evidence – Direct Evidence Definition – Child Train Accident – Inferential Findings

Fuller-Lyons v New South Wales [2015] HCA 31

The High Court of Australia (HCA) has upheld the appeal of a child by his tutor, for injuries sustained in a fall from an intercity electric V-set train.

Facts

Master Corey Fuller-Lyons (Child) brought proceedings for damages in negligence, against the State of New South Wales (State), as the legal entity responsible for the rail network.

The Child was eight (8) at the time of the incident. He was travelling with his brothers aged eleven (11) and fifteen (15). All three were in the lead car of an intercity electric V-set train (train) bound for Newcastle. About 15 minutes prior to the incident, the Child separated from his brothers.

A guard stationed in the rear car gave evidence that he walked along the train at Morisset Station prior to its departure and checked the doors before the train commenced its journey. The platform at Morisset Station is curved. A customer service attendant (CSA) was also on the platform at the time. The guard relied upon the CSA to observe those cars that he could not see. It was the role of the CSA to signal to the guard when the train was ready to depart. The CSA on duty at the time of the incident was deceased at the time of trial.

The guard conceded it was not possible for someone standing at the rear of the train to observe all four (4) cars. The guard said that because the doors were recessed, it was not possible to see if someone was holding something inside that recess. The trial judge concluded that it would not be possible for a guard at the rear car to see a small opening in the doors of the lead carriage.

The train left Morisset Station and two minutes later, the Child fell from the train. Following the incident a rail officer inspected the doors and observed signs of disturbance with both sets of doors at the front of the lead car. On the eastern side, the doors stalled momentarily when closing, creating a gap of about 350mm, and then continued to close and lock. On the western side, the doors closed with a gap of 100mm.

There was no direct evidence about the circumstances of the Child’s fall. The parties lead expert evidence from engineers. The engineer called for the Child said that it was unlikely that the Child forced the doors against the pressure of the door motors. The State’s engineer gave evidence that a 100m gap in the western side doors, suggested the doors had been held open at Morisset Station and later forced.

Proceedings

The trial judge found for the Child on the basis of inferential findings of fact. At first instance, it was accepted that the cause of the incident was the Child becoming trapped in the closing doors. The Court determined that the rail staff failed to observe the Child’s body protruding from the train, before it had left the station.

However, in the New South Wales Court of Appeal (NSWCA), the Court accepted an alternative hypothesis by the State – that the doors were obstructed by the Child’s shoulder, arm and leg, which would not have been visible. This hypothesis was to the effect that the Child had forced the doors open with the help of his brothers. The NSWCA allowed the State’s appeal.

Determination

The HCA concluded that a finding that the Child fell from the western side of the car was inevitable. Suggestions that the Child was up to mischief with his brothers were dismissed. It had not been put to the brothers that they had lied to the guard when questioned after the incident or that they were motivated to cover up any wrongdoing on their part.

In a judgment delivered on 2 September 2015 by French CJ, Bell, Gageler, Keane and Nettle JJ, the HCA determined the appeal was one for acceptance, finding as follows:

  1. Expert evidence from an engineer supported a view that a large part of the Child’s body became caught in the doors at Morisset Station.
  2. Part of the Child’s trunk and limbs would have been protruding from the train.
  3. It was accepted by the trial judge and the NSWCA that the child had his back to the doors prior to his fall.
  4. The CSA failed to observe the Child protruding from the train, prior to it leaving Morisset Station.

Damages awarded to the Child were in excess of $1.5M.

Considerations

This case highlights the need for parties to take particular care when building a case that is reliant upon inferential findings of fact.  Absent direct evidence about an incident, expert evidence will almost always be required.

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Kate DenningChild fell from train after being caught between closing doors
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Responding to a request for a Compulsory Conference

Responding to a request for a Compulsory Conference

by Kate Denning Google+

Compulsory Conference PIPA – Compulsory Conference Queensland – Compulsory Conference WorkCover Qld – Compulsory Conference Personal Injury

In claims regulated by the Personal Injuries Proceedings Act 2002 (Qld) (PIPA), Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld) (WCRA) and the Motor Accident Insurance Act 1994 (Qld) (MAIA) any party may ‘call’ a Compulsory Conference (conference).

So, you’ve been involved in a matter for some time now and another party calls a conference. What do you do?

Here’s our list of suggested ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’:

The Don’ts

Ignore the request

If a request for a conference is made, a response should be given within a reasonable timeframe. What’s ‘reasonable’ will vary for each matter, the number of parties involved and the time of year. For instance, if it’s October and parties are trying to arrange a mediated conference in a multi-party dispute for December, it would be helpful for all the parties to provide their availability within a day or two, to lock down a date.

Whenever a request for a conference is made, we should consider it possible that all communications exchanged between the parties thereafter could end up annexed to an affidavit in a Court application. If there’s a gaping whole in a chronology showing no response to a request from one party – that party should expect embarrassment at the hearing of the application.

Immediately agree to the request

Unless you have instructions from your client, intimate knowledge of the matter and you are confident that all outstanding steps, information and documents will be taken or gathered before a conference – do not just jump in and commit to a conference. Don’t agree to a conference just because there’s pressure from another party to provide an immediate response. This can be a trap that early career lawyers fall into and this kind of reactive advocacy could impact upon the outcome of the matter and the relationship with a client.

Cause unreasonable delay

If there are outstanding steps or investigations that should have been completed and they haven’t – don’t refuse to agree to a conference because that work hasn’t been done. A common object of each of the pre-court regimes is the early resolution of personal injury claims. Of course, we are all human (especially lawyers) and at times, some matters demand our attention over others.

A better approach could be to explain to the other party that you will need certain information or material in order to actively participate in a conference, sign a Certificate of Readiness or make a meaningful Mandatory Final Offer (MFO). Otherwise, consider suggesting a tentative date for a conference, proposing the matter proceed by way of informal conference or that a date for conference be scheduled within a defined timeframe.

The Do’s

Review the matter

The exchange of MFOs, Certificates of Readiness and the cost consequences that flow from MFOs, make holding a conference a step with serious consequences for clients and lawyers.

A Certificate of Readiness under the PIPA and WCRA, certifies that the lawyer (or the party) considers the party to be, in all respects, ready for the conference. In claims regulated by the MAIA – the legislation is more onerous – with the lawyer required to certify that ‘the party is in all respects ready for trial.

Some of the things to consider when reviewing a matter are whether:

  • all outstanding steps have been undertaken under the legislation.
  • all factual investigations and instructions from the client have been obtained.
  • adequate responses have been received from the Claimant, other parties or non-parties to all requests for information and documentation.
  • all necessary expert evidence has been provided.
  • the parties have undertaken disclosure.
  • all parties with a liability in contract, tort or under a policy of insurance have been joined to the claim.

Consider mediation

For multi-party disputes, it may be appropriate for a conference to proceed by way of mediation. A conference can proceed by way of mediation, ‘if .. the parties agree’. Parties are sometimes reluctant to suggest mediation. Perhaps this is because they’re concerned the other party/ies may think they really want the matter resolved or perhaps they’re concerned it could be seen as a concession of liability or risk exposure.

There can also be disputes about the contributions towards a mediator’s fee. Often a party who considers itself with no exposure will resist agreeing to meet their share of the cost of a mediator. This position might be justified, for instance, where one party is owed a contractual indemnity by another. However, these disputes can end up costing clients more in solicitor’s fees than the actual share of the mediator’s fee, so it’s best to stick to the real issues in dispute. Instead, make your attitude towards the claim known through Contribution Notices, liability responses or requests for particulars.

Of course, it’s not always appropriate to mediate. If the parties know that a matter is unlikely to settle at conference, it may be a cost that they’d prefer to avoid and reserve mediation for the litigated stage. Conversely, if the parties think a matter can be resolved because the parties are on the same page, then mediation may not be necessary.

Informal conferences

Informal conferencing can be useful where a party is not ready to participate in a conference under the legislation. The parties can agree to participate in an informal conference and agree to dispose with the requirement for a conference under the legislation to be held if the matter does not settle.

With this approach, parties don’t have the pressure of MFOs and Certificates of Readiness weighing upon the negotiations. Also, if the matter fails to resolve, they needn’t incur the legal costs of a conference at a later date.

Set a tentative date

In a multi-party dispute it’s a good idea for the parties to tentatively schedule a conference early in the matter to give the everyone a date to work towards. This is practical in multi-party disputes where claims may be regulated by two or more pieces of legislation. Also, with a date scheduled months in advance, it makes it difficult for one party to wriggle out with excuses. Medical examinations, factual investigations, requests to parties and requests to non-parties can all be worked into an agreed timetable.

Comments

The object of a conference is for a claim to be settled at an early stage, without the need for litigation. There’s no point in agreeing to a conference if the parties won’t be ready but one party should not cause unreasonable delay for the others.

For advice on insurance law matters, please contact us. Keep up to date with the latest news and developments in insurance law, by subscribing to our blog, InDefence.

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Kate DenningResponding to a request for a Compulsory Conference
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‘Actively Participating’ in a Compulsory Conference

‘Actively Participating’ in a Compulsory Conference

Compulsory Conference PIPA – Compulsory Conference Queensland – Compulsory Conference WorkCover Qld – Compulsory Conference Personal Injury

Parties to a Queensland personal injury claim are required to attend a Compulsory Conference (conference) and ‘actively participate’ in an attempt to resolve the claim, before proceedings can be started in a Court.

An exception is made for a party, that has a ‘reasonable excuse’ not to do so.

A variety of methods are used by parties and their lawyers to try to get the most out of a conference and it’s interesting to see how the meaning of ‘active participation’ is interpreted in practice.

Some of the methods that we see arise are:

1. Passive

In a multi-party dispute, it’s usually easy to identify the party who’s taking a passive role before the matter gets to a conference. The party may be non-communicative or just generally indifferent about the progress of the matter.

The idea that a party could be passive at conference is at odds with the requirement under the legislation for parties to ‘actively participate’. However, in certain circumstances, it’s appropriate for a party to adopt that position – they may have a ‘reasonable excuse’. For example, where a Respondent or Contributor has a reasonable suspicion of fraud.

For the remaining parties, it’s important that the passive party is identified prior to the conference and advice is provided to respective clients about the likely attitude of that party in negotiations.

If other parties see a significant exposure for the party taking a passive role, it could be useful to have some pre-conference discussions about liability, contribution or any other relevant issues. If you don’t, you might be surprised to find that a conference is a waste of time and money.

2. Aggressive

The Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules require solicitors to be, ‘courteous in all dealings in the course of legal practice’. So its unfortunate when aggression (as opposed to robust debate) is seen at conferences. Perhaps it’s an attempt to rattle the other person or, perhaps it’s because the aggressor isn’t familiar enough with the matter.

For those on the receiving end, it can feel like a personal attack and there’s simply no valid reason for this kind of conduct. It does nothing to facilitate the negotiation process. Complaints to regulating bodies may be a consideration depending on the circumstances.

3. Measured

Most conferences proceed with numerous offers exchanged, with those offers moving gradually towards an acceptable position. The advantage of this ‘death by a thousand cuts’ method of negotiation is that the client may feel as though they have remained in control throughout the negotiation process and have gotten the ‘best deal’, where a settlement is achieved. Of course, it’s possible that this approach may frustrate some opponents or their representatives, who are seasoned negotiators and believe that it’s best to just move the negotiations along more quickly.

4. Conservative

When information remains outstanding at a conference, one or more parties may decide it’s best to, ‘keep their powder dry’ and to make few concessions in the negotiations. When MFOs are ultimately exchanged, they may be far apart, with parties hoping to achieve a better outcome through a litigated mediation.

This approach might be appropriate in a case where, for example, neither party has obtained expert medical evidence about a subsequent injury. In such a scenario, the parties know that more evidence will need to be gathered prior to a trial but do not know if that evidence will help or hurt their case.

This approach is less likely to arise in a claim that is regulated only by the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld), where orders about costs flow only from MFOs. In workers’ compensation claims, the parties are under pressure to make their ‘best offer’ at conference.

Where claims are regulated by the Personal Injuries Proceedings Act 2002 (Qld) and the Motor Accident Insurance Act 1994 (Qld), parties may feel that they can hold out for a better offer at a litigated mediation.

5. Surprise!

If you have ever been at a conference where surveillance has been revealed, you’ll understand this technique perfectly. Of course, documents and information that are required to be disclosed, should be provided on an ongoing basis in accordance with the legislation. Some innocent examples of late disclosure that arise may include providing file notes from telephone attendances with medical experts or witnesses just prior to, or, at conference (where late investigations cannot be avoided). If late disclosure obstructs the negotiations, then it may be appropriate for the party at a disadvantage to propose that the conference be adjourned and re-convened at a later date. Intentional deception of an opponent by a lawyer can amount to professional misconduct. 

6. Efficient

‘Can we cut to the chase?’

‘Can we split the difference’?

If you’re in a conference where opposing parties or their representatives are on the same page, then it’s likely that someone will try and move the negotiations along with questions like these. The difficulty with agreeing to this type of request, is that you won’t necessarily know if you could have achieved a better outcome by continuing to negotiate, by the exchange of more offers.

An efficient negotiator might also call for MFOs early in the negotiations. This may be done in response to slow movement in offers by the other party, to force the other party to make a significant concession. Where a claim is capable of resolution at conference, this technique may totally obstruct negotiations and actually backfire on the person calling for MFOs. It should not be done to bluff the opponent/s and of course, only upon instructions from the client.

Comments

‘Active participation’ can mean many very different things at a conference. It’s a good idea to tailor your approach for conference to your matter, your client, your opponent/s and for the advantages to be gained under the legislation regulating the claim.

To keep up to date with the latest news and developments in insurance and personal injury law, subscribe to our blog InDefence.

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Kate Denning‘Actively Participating’ in a Compulsory Conference
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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.