In industries that use heavy equipment, claims sometimes arise out of vibratory forces or sudden jolts. Only a handful of Australian judgments have been delivered over the past decade in these types of cases. Some take away points from those decisions are as follows:

Previous complaints

In a vibration case, the number of complaints made about the equipment or the road surface will be relevant. For instance, in Robertson v Gillman Bros Mining Contractors Pty Ltd [2007] WASCA 36, the trial judge was not satisfied that the level of complaints suggested any wrongdoing by the Defendant because the complaints were ‘no more than would necessarily be expected and unavoidable in’ the harsh environment of underground mining.

Condition of equipment

The extent of any damage caused by a jolt, will be relevant to determining the impact force: Kelly v Humanis Group Limited [2014] WADC 43. In Kellythe Plaintiff’s dump truck was struck by a fully loaded excavator bucket. However, due to the limited damage to the Plaintiff’s dump truck, the Court concluded that the force of the impact was less than the Plaintiff described in his evidence.

For vibration cases, the condition of the seating, mirrors, suspension and any modifications to the equipment may also be taken into account: Russell v Hancock Farm Company Pty Ltd [2013] QDC 129. InRussell, the Court ultimately found for the Plaintiff because of the general condition of the equipment and the system of work and not because of the vibratory forces to which the Plaintiff was exposed.

Pre-start checklists, inspection and maintenance records, diaries, photographs and similar documents, will assist the Court, in determining the condition of the equipment.

Reporting of the incident

As with all personal injury cases, the timing of the Plaintiff’s report about the event will be taken into account. In Kelly, the Plaintiff’s failure to report the incident immediately afterwards (along with the limited damage to the dump truck) was a factor which led to a finding for the Defendant.

Pre-existing degeneration

The Plaintiffs in these cases often have underlying or pre-existing degeneration. The Defendant will bear the burden of proving that the Plaintiff would have suffered symptoms, regardless of the event. However, where the evidence can identify significant degeneration, substantial discounts can be made: Russell v Hancock Farm Company Pty Ltd.

Expert evidence

Expert liability evidence has assisted the Court in the cases mentioned above, in deciding issues such as:

  • the extent of the impact force from a jolt.
  • whether vibration could have caused injury.
  • the period over which an injury through vibratory forces could occur.
  • the condition of the equipment or road surface.

Summary

These kinds of cases are often complex and expensive to litigate for the parties. With claims arising in the mining, construction and agricultural industries, claims often involve multiple parties, disputes on liability and quantum, as well as cross claims in contract and tort. The cases that are contested, commonly involve questions about the Plaintiff’s credit and underlying degeneration.