This appeal considered the extent of the right of a claimant to seek information from an insurer under section 279 of the Queensland Workers’ Compensation Rehabilitation Act 2015 (QLD) (Act).
Section 279 imposes a duty upon the parties to cooperate in relation to the claim, in particular by providing documents and information about the circumstances of the accident and the claimant’s injuries.
In this claim, the claimant’s solicitors delivered a lengthy schedule of questions to the self insured employer purporting to request information pursuant to section 279 of the Act. It is the practice of several plaintiff law firms in Queensland to deliver extensive questionnaires to inconvenience insurers and run up costs both in having to answer the questions and fighting any applications challenging refusals to answer questions or the adequacy of the response.
The claimant’s barrister conceded that a number of the questions did not relate to the circumstances of the accident or the claimant’s injuries. The claimant argued that the obligation to provide information under section 279 was not limited to the circumstances of the accident or the injuries but was a general obligation at large to provide any information requested by a claimant. The claimant argued that the words ‘in particular’ meant non‑exclusive examples of the type of information which could be requested.
In response, the self insured employer argued that the scope of questions which could be asked was restricted to the circumstances of the accident and the nature of the injuries as an exhaustive list under the section. The claimant could not ask for any information or documents outside of those particular areas.
The Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the primary judge to reject the claimant’s argument and find that the self insured’s duty to disclose information under section 279 was limited. The Court rejected a broad interpretation of the duty as this would make the listing of the specific categories pointless and allow the claimant to side step the need to justify a link between the questions and the cause of action.
The Court of Appeal was also very critical of the claimant’s list of questions, which were compared to interrogatories. A litigant requires leave of the Court to deliver interrogatories under the Queensland Uniform Civil Procedure Rules. The Queensland Courts discourage interrogatories because they increase the cost of litigation and delay finalisation of claims.
The Court of Appeal decided to express a definitive opinion on the practice as there were a number of single judge decisions which went either way. The Court of Appeal intervened to resolve the confusion in rulings and put a stop to this practice.