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Tickner v Teys Australia Biloela Pty Ltd

 
Unreported Citation: [2020] QSC 62
EDITOR'S NOTE

In this significant case, Crow J answered an important question regarding the transfer of proceedings from the Supreme Court to the District Court: whether the District Court monetary limit refers to the net amount of damages claimed after a statutory reduction in damages under ss 270 and 271 of the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003. Crow J concluded that it is the “net amount or the amount the employer is legally liable to pay” which is relevant to determine the jurisdictional limit of the District Court.

Crow J

7 April 2020

Ms Tickner alleges she suffered catastrophic injuries as a result of a fall in the course of her employment with the defendant. [20]. In January 2020, she commenced an action in the Supreme Court for negligence and breach of contract causing personal injury. [1]. In para 10 of her statement of claim, Ms Tickner pleaded the monetary values of her claims under each head of damages in a table. [2]. Materially, the table included the following rows: [2]:

SUB TOTAL $843,729.75
Less refund to WorkCover (185,844.54)
TOTAL $657,885.21

The defendant applied for the proceedings to be transferred to the District Court pursuant to s 25(2) of the Civil Proceedings Act 2011 (“Civil Proceedings Act”) on the grounds that the net amount claimed was within the District Court's monetary limit of $750,000. [4]–[6].

Ms Tickner opposed the application on the grounds that under ss 270 and 271 of the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (“the Act”), the Court is required first to make an assessment of damages under common law principles, and then to reduce that amount by however much was paid by the insurer – here WorkCover – as compensation for the injury. [6]–[8].

While Crow J agreed with that interpretation of the Act, his Honour did not consider that this brought the claim above the District Court's monetary limit. [8]–[13]. Rather, referring to Crown Equipment Pty Ltd v ACN 098 568 702 Pty Ltd [2013] QSC 24, his Honour found that a claim which would be outside the monetary limit before a reduction would still be brought within that limit if the damages after reduction fell within the limit. [12]. This was because s 68(1)(a) of the District Court of Queensland Act 1967 refers to the “amount, value or damage sought”, which his Honour found to refer to “the net amount or amount the ‘employer is legally liable to pay’”. [13]. Here, that was $657,885.21, which is within the District Court’s monetary limit. [14].

Next, Crow J turned to whether to exercise the discretion under s 25(2) of the Civil Proceedings Act to transfer the proceedings to the District Court. [15]. His Honour considered that there were six points to be noted regarding the discretion: [17] 

(1)  the discretion conferred on the court by s 25(2) is unfettered;

(2)  the discretion is a broad one and unconstrained by any other express limitation;

(3)  the favourable exercise of the discretion is not simply there for the asking;

(4)  the discretion must be exercised judicially;

(5)  the onus is on the applicant for a transfer to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the court that it is in the interests of justice that the proceeding be transferred; and

(6)  all other things being equal, it will usually be in the interests of justice for the proceeding to be transferred, in terms of s 25(2), if that claim is within the jurisdiction of the inferior court.

Ultimately, his Honour identified seven factors which militated against the transfer of the proceedings [29]:

(i) the proceeding has some degree of complexity;

(ii) the plaintiff has suffered from a serious brain injury;

(iii) the damages claimed in the statement of claim total $843,729.75, however with the reduction required by s 270 [of the Act] the reduced amount… is currently a sum less than the District Court limit;

(vi)  depending upon the conduct of the trial, the amount particularised as the claim is not necessarily the upper amount of an award which could be made in the plaintiff’s favour;

(v)  when the matter is ready for trial it will receive a trial date in the Rockhampton Supreme Court many months in advance of any availability in the District Court in Rockhampton;

(vi)  the plaintiff was injured on 20 July 2016, almost four years ago, and is suffering personal and financial hardship; and

(vii)  there are limited adverse costs consequences to the defendant in litigating in the Supreme Court. Section 318 [of the Act] limits any adverse consequences of costs in a proceeding in the Supreme Court by requiring cost orders to be made in accordance with the District Court scale.

In the event, the application to transfer proceedings was dismissed. [31].

M Paterson