Supreme Court of Victoria upholds VCAT decision that increased rental expnses arising from need to house life saving equipment and carer not covered under Transport Accident Act 1986.

In Issue

  • Whether increased rent as a result of housing life sustaining equipment & a carer is compensable under the Transport Accident Act 1986 (Vic)

Background

The plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle accident and as a result is now a ventilator dependant quadriplegic. As such, he requires a carer available to him 24 hours per day and is fully dependent on that carer and equipment for mobility, nutrition and all functions of daily living.

It was accepted that the plaintiff required a four-bedroom property to house himself, his mother (being his principal carer), another attendant carer, and to store equipment and medical supplies. The plaintiff had been living in a two bedroom unit with his father at the time of the accident.

The plaintiff applied to the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) to be compensated for the additional rental costs of the large house, pursuant to s60(2)(a) of the Transport Accident Act 1986 (Vic) (the Act), on the basis that the expense was the reasonable costs of “medical services”, “disability services” or “rehabilitation services” within the meaning of the section.

The TAC rejected the claim. The plaintiff appealed the decision to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

Decision at trial

The Tribunal found that the Commission was not liable for the expense of a larger rental property because it was neither a disability nor rehabilitation service. Further, no matter how liberally the term ‘medical services’ was defined, it could not be extended to cover the claimed accommodation expenses.

Decision on appeal

The court had no doubt that the storage or accommodation of the plaintiff’s equipment at his premises was a critical and indispensable part of the provision of the rehabilitation equipment and the carer’s services. However, it could not be characterised as being ‘part and parcel’ of the provision of that equipment and those services as required by earlier decisions. Instead, the accommodation was a separate ‘service’ notwithstanding that its availability was critical for the equipment and services to be used by him. The court also found that the accommodation was not , a disability, rehabilitation or medical service because it could not, as a matter of ordinary English, be characterised as something needed to ‘operate, run, maintain or repair’ the life saving equipment.

Implications for you

The result of this case is that the TAC will rarely be liable for increased accommodation costs arising from motor vehicle accidents. The court specifically commented that this case highlights a deficiency in the law in that the relevant legislation, as currently framed, does not provide the relief needed by the plaintiff. It remains to be seen whether the parliament will respond and introduce amending legislation.