Whether acceptance of a claim gives rise to an admission that an employer has paid and continues to pay a worker's medical and like expenses – injury arising out of or in the course of employment – Accident Compensation Act sections 82(1) and 99(1).
At the Damages trial in the County Court the defendant (Trowelcoat)alleged that the worker's claimed injury arose not while working for the defendant, but while undertaking independent contracting work unrelated to employment. The worker's counsel sought an admission from the employer that they paid and continued to pay the worker's medical and like expenses. He wished to use the admission to invite the jury to infer that the worker suffered injury in the course of employment, as section 82(1) of the Accident Compensation Act 1958 sets out that a worker is only entitled to payment of medical and like expenses if they sustained injury arising out of / or in the course of employment.
The defendant's counsel argued that the admission sought introduced irrelevant considerations at trial that distracted the jury from issues of causation, and that administrative processes that were part of a 'no fault' WorkCover scheme should not be allowed as evidence at trial. However the court thought there were times where the mention of compensation received would be relevant at trial, citing the examples of when damages need to be assessed, and when a defendant cross-examines a worker as to lack of motivation to work when in receipt of compensation.
Counsel for the defendant also argued that the plaintiff was attempting to use the admission as proof of causation. The court disagreed, and found that the admission sought was only to the effect that the plaintiff suffered back injury in the course of and scope of his employment as per the Work Cover claim form.
It was also argued that the admission sought was not acceptable at trial as the employer disagreed with the initial acceptance of the claim by the WorkCover agent. In response to this the court pointed out that section 114I of the Accident Compensation Act permits employers to object to an agent's acceptance of liability if they believe the worker is not a worker. There was no evidence that the defendant ever perused this option.
The defendant argued that while it was normal to seek such admission in serious injury applications, they should not be allowed at damages trials. In this respect, the court found that the acceptance of a claim should stand only as an admission by the Authority or self-insurer, speaking for the employer, that such an injury was sustained, and that such admissions should not be confined to serious injury applications.
Held (Rush J): There was no legal bar to the admission sought by the worker's counsel.