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Nguyen v Woolworths Limited[2016] QDC 130

Nguyen v Woolworths Limited[2016] QDC 130

DISTRICT COURT OF QUEENSLAND

CITATION:

Nguyen v Woolworths Limited [2016] QDC 130

PARTIES:

MOSES NGUYEN

(applicant)

v

WOOLWORTHS LIMITED

(respondent)

FILE NO/S:

1754 of 2016

DIVISION:

Civil

PROCEEDING:

Application

ORIGINATING COURT:

District Court

DELIVERED ON:

24 May 2016, ex tempore

DELIVERED AT:

Brisbane

HEARING DATE:

24 May 2016

JUDGE:

Everson DCJ

ORDER:

  1. The application is allowed.
  2. The respondent pay the applicants costs of and incidental to the application on the standard basis

CATCHWORDS:

EMPLOYMENT LAW – Injury to employee – Liability of employer – pre-litigation procedure – obligation to provide information reasonably requested – scope of obligation – whether requests reasonable.

Acts Interpretation Act 1954, s 14A

Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003, ss 279, 273, 31

Haug v Jupiters Limited Trading as Conrad Treasury Brisbane [2008] 1 Qd R 276

Healy v Logan City Council [2016] QDC 15

COUNSEL:

R Morgan for the applicant

M T O'Sullivan for the respondent

SOLICITORS:

Shine Lawyers for the applicant

Sparke Helmore Lawyers for the respondent 

  1. [1]
    This is an application whereby the applicant is seeking further documentation pursuant to section 279 of the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (“WCRA”).
  1. [2]
    The applicant alleges that he was injured at work whilst picking stock at a distribution centre and placing it on a pallet for transport to a Woolworths store. He alleges that he was required to perform an unsafe manual-handling task during the course of loading the pallet, which caused him to injure his lower back.
  1. [3]
    Section 279 of the WCRA is in the following terms:

“(1)The parties must cooperate in relation to a claim, in particular by –

(a)giving each other copies of relevant documents about:

(i)the circumstances of the event resulting in the injury;  and

(ii)the worker’s injury;  and

(iii)the worker’s prospects of rehabilitation;  and

(b)giving information reasonably requested by each other party about –

(i)the circumstances of the event resulting in the injury;  and

(ii)the nature of the injury and of any impairment or financial loss resulting from the injury;  and

(iii)if applicable – the medical treatment and rehabilitation the worker has sought from, or been provided with, by the worker’s employer or the insurer;  and

(iv)the worker’s medical history, as far as it is relevant to the claim;  and

(v)any applications for compensation made by the claimant or worker for any injury resulting from the same event.

….”

  1. [4]
    The application focuses upon relevant documents about “the circumstances of the event resulting in the injury”.
  1. [5]
    The term “event” is defined in section 31 of the WCRA in the following terms: –

“(1)An event is anything that results in injury, including a latent onset injury, to a worker.

(2)An event includes continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same conditions that results in an injury to a worker.

(3)A worker may sustain 1 or multiple injuries as a result of an event whether the injury happens or injuries happen immediately or over a period.

(4)If multiple injuries result from an event, they are taken to have happened in 1 event.”

  1. [6]
    The applicant seeks that the respondent disclose to the applicant all documents relevant to: –

“…firstly, risk assessment of the workplace tasks undertaken by the applicant, and secondly, induction and training of the applicant concerning workplace manual handling and lifting techniques, including guidelines, manuals and codes of practice concerning workplace health and safety.”

  1. [7]
    The applicant submits that the documentation sought comes within the concept of “the circumstances of the event”.
  1. [8]
    Even given the expanded definition of “event” in the WCRA, the respondent submits that the event does not extend to what occurred during the applicant’s induction and the manual-handling instructions he was given. The respondent further points to the more extensive obligation to provide information in section 279(1)(b), which is qualified by the word “reasonably” in respect of a request for such information. The respondent submits that the meaning given to the circumstances of the event ought to be constrained, and relies upon a decision of the Court of Appeal in Haug v Jupiters Limited Trading as Conrad Treasury Brisbane [2008] 1 Qd R 276, which it submits dealt with an analogous provision of the Personal Injuries Proceedings Act 2002 whereby the obligation to provide copies of documents was constrained to “material about the incident alleged to give rise to the personal injury to which the claim relates”.  Particular reliance was placed upon the observation of Williams JA at [3] that the term must be a reference to the “incident” particularised in the Notice of Claim.
  1. [9]
    The event particularised in paragraphs 37, 39 and 40 of the applicant’s Notice of Claim specified the event as occurring on the 28th of May 2014 with him suffering an injury in the circumstances outlined in paragraph [2] above.
  1. [10]
    There does not appear to be a Court of Appeal authority on the extent of the obligation to provide copies of documents pursuant to section 279(1)(a) of the WCRA. I have not been taken to any decisions other than decisions of District Court Judges. The decision which is of most assistance is that of McGill SC, DCJ in Healy v Logan City Council [2016] QDC 15, where his Honour noted the expanded definition of “event” at [30] in the context of an application pursuant to section 279(1)(b) of the WCRA. His Honour observed:

“…it is significant that “event” is defined as anything that results in injury, so that anything which could be said to be a cause of the injury is part of the event. In the immediate sense the cause of the injury was the fall of the plaintiff, but it can also be said to be relevant to consider, in the context of liability for the injury, the cause of that fall. The proposition that an injury at work was caused by inadequate or defective training is by no means novel, and in the present case the plaintiff in the Notice of Claim specifically asserted that she had been directed to stand on the benches”.

  1. [11]
    It does not appear relevant to me that his Honour was construing the definition of the term “the event” in the context of section 279(1)(b) rather than section 279(1)(a). The obligations pursuant to section 279 fall within Chapter 5 Part 5 of the WCRA, which deals with PRE-COURT PROCEDURES. In section 273 it is stated that the object of this part is “to facilitate the just and expeditious resolution of the real issues in a claim for damages at a minimum of expense”. It is noteworthy that pursuant to section 14A of the Acts Interpretation Act 1954:

“(1)In the interpretation of a provision of an Act, the interpretation that will best achieve the purpose of the Act is to be preferred to any other interpretation.”

  1. [12]
    The respondent through its counsel, Mr O'Sullivan, readily concedes that, if the applicant’s claim is not resolved in the course of the pre-court procedures and the applicant proceeds to commence a court proceeding alleging negligence through the failure to provide a safe system of work, documents of the type the subject of this application would then become the subject of disclosure obligations pursuant to the Uniform Civil Procedure Rules 1999. Given the broad definition of “event” in section 31 of the WCRA and the purpose of the Act to facilitate a just and expeditious resolution of the real issues in a claim, it would not appear to accord with the purpose of the legislation to interpret it in such a way that documents which may assist the applicant would be readily disclosable, in the event the matter did not resolve through the pre-court procedures, only on the institution of a claim in a court of competent jurisdiction.
  1. [13]
    The concept of an injury being caused by an unsafe system of work and the obligation of an employer to not only provide a safe system of work but to take reasonable steps to enforce it are well established principles. Consistently with the observations of McGill SC DCJ in Healy v Logan City Council, I am therefore of the view that the obligation pursuant to section 279(1)(a) of the WCRA extends to documentation of the type sought by the applicant. Failure to provide and enforce a safe system of work is clearly something that results in an injury should an applicant establish that there is a nexus between the breach of the employer’s obligations and the injury sustained.
  1. [14]
    I therefore make an order in terms of the draft, which I initial and place with the file.
  1. [15]
    I come to the question of costs. The respondent submits that because the applicant finessed the ambit of the documentation sought after filing the application there should be no order as to costs. The applicant has merely sought a category of documents which are consistent with the obligation outlined by McGill SC DCJ in the decision referred to above. The applicant has been successful in arguing that the respondent is obliged to provide copies of these documents and, in my view, costs should follow the event. I therefore order that the respondent pay the applicants costs of and incidental to the application on the standard basis.
Close

Editorial Notes

  • Published Case Name:

    Nguyen v Woolworths Limited

  • Shortened Case Name:

    Nguyen v Woolworths Limited

  • MNC:

    [2016] QDC 130

  • Court:

    QDC

  • Judge(s):

    Everson DCJ

  • Date:

    24 May 2016

Appeal Status

Please note, appeal data is presently unavailable for this judgment. This judgment may have been the subject of an appeal.

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