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In the recent Perth Registry, Administrative Appeals Tribunal decision of Stephen Ryan v Swire Pacific Ship Management (Australia) Pty Ltd 1 July 2020, the Employer was successful in defending a claim for seafarers’ compensation and persuading the Tribunal to find that the Applicant did not suffer an incapacitating incident during the course of his employment with the Employer by:

  • conducting a significant forensic analysis into the Applicant’s very extensive medical history of work related and non-work related incidents, and
  • cross referencing all of the incidents with the Applicant’s medical records.

The Tribunal made the following findings:

  1. There were clear discrepancies in the oral evidence of the Applicant compared to the documentary evidence.
  2. It was satisfied the events the Applicant contended may have led to him developing his spinal condition did occur, and most likely caused him pain and discomfort, but were not of sufficient severity to cause any significant damage or require further investigation or treatment.
  3. The medical records and evidence provided by Dr Dewing and Dr Jones, the two treating general practitioners in attendance, were inconsistent with the documentary evidence in the records. The Tribunal did not accept their evidence that the Applicant had suffered back and neck pain for years, particularly as there were very few references to back or neck pain prior to his last working day with the Employer in April 2016.
  4. The Tribunal agreed with the Employer that the Applicant had not been hesitant in the past to report seemingly trivial incidents, such as a sprain, and yet there was no independent objective evidence of the Applicant reporting back or neck pain. The Tribunal was unconvinced that the events referred to by the Applicant, whilst giving evidence at the Tribunal, were of sufficient severity to cause significant damage. 
  5. Based on all the evidence, the Tribunal accepted the Applicant did suffer severe degenerative disease and Forestier’s disease but said, on the balance of probabilities, his ailments and/or conditions and/or incapacity and/or symptoms were not contributed to in a material degree by his employment with the Employer.

Relevant issues of the case

This decision reinforces that, when defending a claim for compensation for an injury or disease during the course of employment, one should always ensure that:

  • there is a full and thorough forensic analysis of all medical records and alleged injuries and incidents to establish an accurate timeline of events for the Tribunal, and
  • there is cross referencing of any alleged complaints of injury and treatment with those documented in order to confirm or not confirm as the case may be an applicant’s oral evidence and that of the witnesses and treating medico-legal doctors.
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