Martin v Golding Contractors Pty Ltd [2014] QSC 53

On 27 March 2014 North J of the Queensland Supreme Court awarded an injured mine worker $1,415,094.09 damages for injuries suffered during the course of her employment. The Plaintiff was 23 at the time of the accident and 28 at the time of the trial.

Background

Liability was admitted and the quantum of damages was the only issue for determination at trial.

The Plaintiff was a truck driver at a coal mine near Emerald when she was injured as a result of a rear end impact to the truck she was driving. The Plaintiff alleged injuries to her cervical, thoracic and limbo-sacral spine in the accident.

The Plaintiff gave extensive affidavit evidence at trial regarding the impact of the accident and her injuries. She had attempted a return to work however her back and neck pain was aggravated when driving and she was unable to continue her pre accident employment. His honour North J was impressed by the Plaintiff and accepted her evidence.

Medical evidence was relied upon at trial from orthopaedic surgeon Dr John McGuire on behalf of the Plaintiff and orthopaedic physician Dr Richard Gibberd on behalf of the Defendant. North J preferred the evidence of Dr McGuire who was of the opinion that the Plaintiff had suffered a combined 13% whole person impairment to the cervical and lumbar spine.

Since the injury the Plaintiff had performed some part time work as a teacher’s aide and also in a Tupperware sales business. At the time of the trial the Plaintiff’s intention was to attempt to retrain as a teacher however she expressed doubt about her ability to pursue this in a full time capacity in the future. She also reported difficulties with office based tasks and need to stand and stretch regularly due to her injuries.

The Plaintiff called evidence from a number of witnesses supporting the Plaintiff’s work ethic and ability to work in the mines and various other roles. She was also a qualified fitter and turner. Evidence relied upon by the Plaintiff suggested that her earning capacity in various mining roles for which she was qualified if not for her injuries would have earned her between $1,000 and $1,600 net per week plus meal and accommodation allowances.

The Defendant’s witness gave evidence that since the Plaintiff’s injury there had been a downsizing at the mine and in the industry generally with less certainty as to the continuity of employment.

Economic Loss

North J assessed past economic loss at $330,000 for the 5 years between the injury and trial, plus superannuation and interest. His Honour accepted that the Plaintiff would, if not for her injury, have continued in employment of the type she was performing prior to the accident or in one of the many other roles detailed by the Plaintiff’s witnesses.

For the future, his Honour adopted a notional net loss of $1,500 per week for the next 4 years, while the Plaintiff attempted to retrain as a teacher, and thereafter a further net loss of $900 per week for 35 years to age 67. This was discounted by 25% for contingencies, including the possibility that the Plaintiff may not have continued in the mining industry her entire working life. The result was a future economic loss award of $700,000 plus future superannuation at 11%.

In addition to the past and future economic loss awards, North J allowed the cost of retraining as a teacher at around $30,000 and also the past and future lost benefit of meal and accommodation allowances for working on site averaged at $100 per week which came to a further $20,000 for the past and $50,000 for the future.

Conclusion

It is rare to see, as in this matter, an award reflecting economic loss at the high rates of earnings of someone in the mining industry allowed for such a long period into the future, especially to the age of 67. It has been observed by the Supreme Court in previous decisions that mining work can have a high turnover due to its demanding nature and perceived incompatibility in the longer term with family life.

The resulting award, as detailed above, was significant. This must however be taken in the context of the individual Plaintiff herself, who it was noted in the Judgment to have been from a mining family with many connections in the industry which seems to have increased the prospects of her remaining in the industry long term if uninjured. There does not seem to have been any suggestion that the Plaintiff was only going to the mines for a few years to give herself an income boost, as seems to be a fairly common practice.

It was also noted by his honour that the Plaintiff, apparently due to an unrelated condition, is unable to have children and this was factored into the reduction for future contingencies given there would only be a very remote possibility that the Plaintiff would seek time from work in the future to raise a family.

Find a full copy of this decision here.