Employer Should Have Foreseen Psychiatric Illness Says Judge

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Employer Should Have Foreseen Psychiatric Illness Says Judge

04/09/2015

A worker has been awarded more than $1.3 million in damages for schizophrenia and diabetes arising from a minor work-related hand injury, after successfully appealing to a full Supreme Court.

The South Australian Court found it was foreseeable that a "person of normal fortitude" could develop a psychiatric illness after being trapped in machinery, as the worker had been.

In April 2005, the then 21-year-old Agresolve Pty Ltd labour-hire worker was moving 20kg bags of potatoes for Mondello Farms Pty Ltd when his right hand was caught and crushed in a gap between a conveyor belt and a table of rollers.

He was diagnosed with schizophrenia in September 2005 and with type 2 diabetes four years later, and sued Mondello for damages, claiming both conditions were caused by his hand injury.

District Court Judge Paul Cuthbertson found it was likely the worker would have suffered from schizophrenia at some stage in his life if he hadn't been injured, but the incident accelerated the condition and his diabetes was triggered by weight gain associated with schizophrenia medication.

Referring to s33 of the State Civil Liability Act 1936, Judge Cuthbertson found the employer couldn't have foreseen the worker was susceptible to schizophrenia, and awarded him $18,042 in damages for his hand injury only.

The worker appealed, arguing Judge Cuthbertson erred in his construction of s33 and wrongly focused on whether the employer should have foreseen his schizophrenia, rather than a psychiatric illness of any kind.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Kourakis and Justices Thomas Gray and Tim Stanley agreed.

"The Judge's reasoning was infected by his irrelevant focus on whether the [worker] was a person of normal fortitude by reason of his susceptibility to developing schizophrenia," Justice Stanley said.

Justice Gray said a reasonable person in the employer's position "would understand that a person of normal fortitude in the [worker's] position would find the experience of being trapped in industrial machinery while in severe pain to be terrifying".

"A person in the [worker's] position might have readily understandable fears of suffering serious, life-long, debilitating and disfiguring injury which may render them unable to work and severely diminish their quality of life," he said.

"While it may be unlikely, it is not farfetched or fanciful that a person of ordinary fortitude 'might' experience a reaction beyond fear or terror, in particular anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, in those circumstances."

Chief Justice Kourakis and Justice Stanley found the worker was entitled to $1,313,827 in damages in addition to the $18,000 already awarded to him.

Anwar v Mondello Farms Pty Ltd [2015] SASCFC 109 (10 August 2015)

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