In this claim, Cooper Grace Ward acted for WorkCover Queensland as worker’s compensation insurer of the defendant.
Mr Corbin, a corrective services officer, was assaulted by prisoner X on 10 October 2013. The assault resulted in Mr Corbin suffering a number of injuries including a head injury. Mr Corbin had earlier asked prisoner X to refrain from smoking indoor but he persisted. The attack occurred shortly after Mr Corbin re-approached the prisoner, without another officer, to again ask him to stop smoking. Without warning, prisoner X struck Mr Corbin several times in the head.
Mr Corbin gave evidence that he no reason to fear an assault from prisoner X. He thought their relationship was all right.
Prisoner X had no history of assaulting officers, although had some history of being involved in assaults with other prisoners, mainly while at another prison facility. There was some history of threatening officers but he had not acted on those threats.
Liability was disputed at trial on the basis that the assault was not reasonably foreseeable (based on prisoner X having an unremarkable behavioural history) nor was it reasonably preventable.
Mr Corbin argued that:
- the imposition of an intensive management plan (IMP) would have prevented the assault.
- the prisoner should not have been in a protection unit, although that allegation was ultimately abandoned by Mr Corbin at the end of trial.
- his co-worker failed to maintain line of sight vision of Mr Corbin, having left the compound just before Mr Corbin approached the prisoner the second time (vicarious liability).
The court found that:
- while the prisoner’s behavioural history may have been viewed by various departmental officers as ‘unremarkable’, the legal test to apply was whether he posed a foreseeable risk requiring management under an IMP.
- based on the prisoner’s history, he did not need to be managed under an IMP.
- the imposition of an IMP would not have prevented the assault, even if implemented.
- the employer did not fail to ensure two officers/line of sight precautions were in place.
Even if another officer had been present, it would not have changed the reaction of prisoner X to Mr Corbin’s approach.
Damages were notionally assessed at $625,951.60 inclusive of the no-fault benefits Mr Corbin had received from WorkCover.
This case, along with a number of other recent decisions, highlights the difficulties claimants face in proving that third party assaults are reasonably foreseeable and preventable by employers. Quite often these assaults are random or involve determined individuals whose conduct is not easily controlled.