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The decision of The Corporation of the Synod of the Diocese of Brisbane v Greenway [2017] QCA 103 is a stark reminder that a high level of forensic investigation should be undertaken before making a workers' compensation claim, particularly in deducing whether factual causation can be met between a worker's injury and an employer's negligence.

Background

The Plaintiff, a care worker, was working with a 15 year-old boy in a residential care facility when he became physically aggressive. He threw a phone at her, pushed her out of the way in the search for car keys and threatened self-harm. He also broke the window in his room and threatened to hurt someone with a large shard of glass (she and the boy were the only two at the premises).

The worker telephoned her superior while this was occurring to notify him of the incident. She then successfully de-escalated the situation and put the boy to bed before phoning her superior again. The Defendant did not relieve her from her shift or send another worker to support her and advised her against calling the police. She consequently spent the remainder of the night at the facility alone with the boy.

The worker contracted post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and did not return to work following this shift. When before the District Court in the first instance, the Plaintiff claimed she had contracted PTSD as a result of the incident and the employer's response to the incident. She did not allege (even in the alternative) that she had suffered a further injury, which was an exacerbation of PTSD arising from the incident.

The Trial Judge found the employer was not negligent in failing to prevent the incident, however, did find that they were negligent in responding to the Plaintiff's telephone calls and awarded damages of $454,935.68. The decision was appealed on the basis that the Trial Judge did not consider factual causation using the well-established "but for" test, to conclude that the PTSD would not have occurred but for the employer's lack of support.

On appeal

The Court of Appeal considered psychiatric evidence, which stated the incident was the primary factor causing the worker to develop PTSD. At its highest, the evidence proved there may have been less severe PTSD but for the employer's negligence, however, there was a "remote possibility" that the PTSD might not have developed at all.

The Court ultimately found the worker developed PTSD as a result of the incident. Had the worker relied on an exacerbation of PTSD argument, the decision's outcome may have been different.

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