Whether a claim for damages for an injury sustained while unloading goods off a stationary forklift fell within the scope of section 3A(1) MACA 1999.

In Issue

  • Whether an injury which occurred during the unloading of goods off a stationary forklift was caused during “the driving of a vehicle” within the meaning of s3A(1) of the MACA and therefore compensable under the Act.

The Background

The appellant, Toll Pty Ltd (‘employer’), appealed against a decision of the District Court in which judgment was entered for the respondent, Jay Anthony Harradine (‘worker’) in the sum of $1,380,166.

The worker claimed damages for injuries allegedly sustained during the course of employment on 16 February 2010 as he was unloading goods from a stillage (a rectangular metal cage). The stillage should have been securely fastened to the forklift, but it was not and it slid off and fell onto the worker’s left arm, causing injury.

The employer did not dispute that it had breached its duty of care to the worker as the forklift operator had been negligent in using the stillage to load the trailer when it had not been secured. The dispute related to whether worker’s injuries satisfied section 3A(1) Motor Accidents Compensation Act 1999 (‘MACA’); namely, whether the worker’s injuries occurred during “the driving of the vehicle”.

The Decision at Trial

At first instance, the trial judge held that the worker’s injuries satisfied section 3A(1) MACA as the injuries were a result of and caused “during...the driving of the vehicle” or “during a dangerous situation caused by the driving of the vehicle”. Accordingly, damages were assessed in accordance with the MACA rather than the more restrictive regime under the Workers Compensation Act 1987.

The Issues on Appeal

The employer appealed on the ground that the trial judge erred in finding that the worker’s injuries satisfied section 3A(1) MACA. One of the primary criticisms made by the employer was that the trial judge failed to give adequate reasons for his findings on liability. While the trial judge referred to a number of authorities in construing the meaning of section 3A MACA and similar legislation, the application of the principles was a focus of the appeal.

The Decision on Appeal

The Court of Appeal unanimously allowed the appeal. Regarding causation, the Court of Appeal found that the dangerous situation was not caused by the driving of the vehicle. Similarly, the negligence of the forklift operator in failing to fasten the stillage did not occur during the driving of the vehicle and there was no evidence to suggest that the driving of the forklift materially contributed to the risk that ultimately emerged. Finally, the Court of Appeal followed earlier authorities in confirming that loading or unloading a stationary forklift does not constitute “driving” for the purposes of the MACA.

Implications for you

This case serves as a reminder to consider the circumstances of each individual accident and the gateway provisions of the legislation when determining whether an injury is compensable under the MACA.