WCRA: nil lost earning capacity for minor electric shock

Butcher v Inflight Logistics Services Pty Ltd [2016] QDC 101

 Moynihan QC DCJ

The plaintiff was employed by the Inflight Logistics Services (ILS) to load and unload food and beverage from selected aircraft at Brisbane Airport. The plaintiff used a hydraulic bin lifter attached to a truck to load and unload the food and beverage. While working at the defendant’s premises at Eagle Farm, the plaintiff received an electric shock as a result of grasping an electrical cord and the metal frame of the hydraulic bin lifter. The shock entered through his left hand, through his body and out from his right hand. After the shock the plaintiff was lying on the ground for 10 seconds, conscious, but was shaking and had an irregular pulse rate.

The plaintiff brought a claim against the defendant claiming he suffered personal injury as a result of the electric shock. The defendant admitted the plaintiff suffered an electric shock and that it was caused by the defendant’s negligence, but denied damages, namely that the plaintiff suffered personal injury or that the plaintiff did not suffer personal injury to the extent claimed.

In finding that the electric shock did cause the plaintiff personal injury, his Moynihan J cited Tabet v Gett where the majority in the High Court held to prove causation:

[111] The common law requires proof, by the person seeking compensation, that the negligent act or omission caused the loss or injury constituting the damage. All that is necessary is that, according to the course of common experience, the more probable inference appearing from the evidence is that a defendant’s negligence caused the injury or harm. “More probable” means no more than that, upon a balance of probabilities, such an inference might reasonably be considered to have some greater degree of likelihood; it does not require certainty.

 

Further, in Tabet, damage was defined for the purposes of negligence as some detrimental difference to the plaintiff which can be measured by comparing the relevant state of affairs before and after the negligent act or omission.

The plaintiff claimed that he suffered both physical and psychological injury as a result of the electric shock. With respect to physical injury, his Honour found that the plaintiff had suffered only a minor electric shock and short term physical symptoms based on the various medical examinations:

 

  1. The doctors at the hospital examined the plaintiff and discharged him the same day;
  2. An explanation for the ongoing physical symptoms could not be provided by his general practitioner and the plaintiff was therefore referred to a neurologist;
  3. That neurologist found no serious injury;
  4. A second neurologist accepted that the physical symptoms were related to the electric shock but would diminish over time;
  5. An orthopaedic surgeon did not find any orthopaedic injury attributable to the electric shock; and
  6. A consultant occupational physician found that the electric shock was minor and would only have caused short term depolarisation of nerve ending and muscle soreness

Further, his Honour accepted that the plaintiff sustained psychological injuries, namely anxiety, depression and flashbacks.

Judgment was entered for the plaintiff in the amount of $47,261.95, calculated as follows:

Head Of Damage Amount
General damages $35,400.00
Past economic loss $9,945.35
Interest on past economic loss at 1.35% $369.22
Past loss of superannuation entitlement at 9.25% $919.94
Fox v Wood $121.00
Future economic loss $0.00
Future loss of superannuation entitlements $0.00
Special damages $10,476.10
Future special damages $0.00
Sub total $57,231.61
Less WorkCover refund $9,969.66
Total $47,261.95

 

David Cormack – Brisbane Barrister & Mediator

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