Which case won?

The case for the injured worker
  • My employer has admitted that it was negligent in providing me with a truck with a defective seat. Had the seat been safe, I would not have been injured.
  • The defective seat did not slide all the way forward as it was supposed to. I had to let the air out of the air suspension mechanism, to assist me to reach the clutch pedal. Due to the loss of the seat’s air suspension, I could feel every pothole and bump in the road. Also, because the seat was too far back, I had to lean forward, in an exaggerated position, to control the steering wheel.
  • An engineer specialising in occupational health and safety has provided evidence that truck drivers are at risk of spinal damage due to a combination of prolonged sitting and sitting posture, vibration and shock loading. He also said that as I could not use the air suspension of the seat, I was exposed to higher forces being transferred to my body than if the air suspension could be used while driving the truck.
  • A spinal surgeon has also given evidence that the disc herniation I suffered was attributable to driving on rough terrain with a broken seat, even though I may have already had some degeneration to my disc.
  • Since I would not have been injured if the seat had been safe, the employer is liable for damages.
The case for the employer
  • We have admitted that the seat was defective. However, this defect was not the cause the worker’s injury.
  • Contrary to what the worker’s engineer has said, our expert occupational physician has shown that there is no statistically significant association between heavy physical work such as strenuous movements, awkward occupational postures, repetition, bending and twisting and the onset of back pain.
  • In any event, any back pain the worker might have experienced after driving with the defective seat caused no more particular harm than a transient and short-term onset of episodic back pain. The worker even admitted that in December 2014 he told a friend how good his back was and that he had ridden his dirt bike once or twice in the period from May to December 2014.
  • The actual cause of the worker’s injury was pre-existing symptomatic degenerative disease in his lumbar spine. This is evidenced by episodes in 2003, 2006 and 2011, when he consulted doctors for back pain following various incidences of lifting heavy things. Of significance, he had restricted movement for up to ten days at a time, predating having ever driven the truck with the defective seat.
  • Since the seat defect was not the cause of the worker’s injury, we are not liable for damages and the worker’s case must be dismissed.

So, which case won?

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Case A won. You were right!

How people voted
case a53%
case b47%

Expert commentary on the court's decision

Phil Griffin
Phil GriffinManaging Director
“This case demonstrates the importance of having strong and persuasive expert evidence, since it is this evidence that will determine whether factual causation is proved.”
Court finds in favour of injured worker

In Peebles v Work Cover Queensland [2020] QSC 106, the Supreme Court of Queensland found in favour of the injured worker, Daniel Peebles.  

The court concluded that Mr Peebles’ back injury was caused by the defective seat, and that therefore his employer, Kurtz Transport Pty Ltd, was liable for damages.  

Mr Peebles was awarded a sum of $764,345.12.  

Injured worker must prove that “but for” negligence, harm would not have occurred

Section 305D(1)(a) of the Queensland Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (“the Act”) states that to establish that a breach of duty caused a particular injury, the injured worker must prove that the breach of duty was a necessary condition of the occurrence of the injury. This is referred to as “factual causation”.  

In considering this section of the Act, the court referred to previous findings by the High Court of Australia that the “factual causation” element is a statutory statement of the common law “but for” test of causation. The High Court has said that: 

… a determination in accordance with [s 305D(1)(a)] that negligence was a necessary condition of the occurrence of harm is nothing more or less than a determination on the balance of probabilities that the harm that in fact occurred would not have occurred absent [i.e. “but for”] the negligence. 

Court rejects employer’s evidence

After considering all the expert witness reports and the evidence, the court concluded on the matter of factual causation that the harm to Mr Peebles would not have occurred without the employer’s negligence.  

The court rejected the employer’s argument that the reports of episodes in 2003, 2006 and 2011 supported a finding that Mr Peebles had a pre-existing symptomatic degenerative disease of the lumbar spine.  

The court also rejected the employer’s reliance on statistical associations. The court pointed out that “the question of factual causation… is not the general likelihood of driving conditions for a truck driver causing lumbar disc herniation as a matter of statistical association… It is whether, on the balance of probabilities, [Mr Peebles] has proved factual causation.”  

The court preferred Mr Peebles’ evidence and concluded that he had indeed proved factual causation.  

For example, his spinal surgeon expressed the view that although the forces applied to the spine because of the defective seat might not be sufficient to injure a normal disc, it would be sufficient to injure a disc that was already degenerated and vulnerable. Therefore, it was likely that the disc herniation did occur in May 2014 due to the defective seat.  

This case demonstrates the importance of having strong and persuasive expert evidence, since it is this evidence that will determine whether factual causation is proved.  

Mr Peebles successfully appeals amount of damages awarded

Mr Peebles appealed this decision to the Queensland Supreme Court (Court of Appeal) in Peebles v WorkCover Queensland [2021] QCA 21 

Mr Peebles argued that the trial judge had erred when he applied a 50 per cent discount to the damages awarded because of the hypothetical possibility that Mr Peebles would have, in any event, suffered from a similar disabling condition at some point in the future.  

The appeal court accepted Mr Peebles’ submission that the trial court had erred, allowed the appeal and varied the judgement sum by substituting the sum of $967,052.92.  

NOTICE: This article is accurate as at the time of publication and does not constitute legal advice. Please see our legal notices page for more information. Information related to coronavirus can be outdated very quickly.

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