The ACT Court of Appeal (The Court of Appeal) has recently upheld a decision quashing a worker’s award of damages just shy of $100,000.

In the case of Jancevski v WR Engineering Pty Ltd [2018] ACTCA 34, it was for the Court of Appeal to determine whether WR Engineering Pty Ltd (Employer) provided Jancevski (Employee) with adequate training and warning following an injury which took place while an Employee was performing rectification works on an automatic panel lift garage door.

Key facts

In this case, the Employer operated a business in the Australian Capital Territory for the supply and installation of residential and commercial garage doors. The Employee worked as a garage door installer.

About nine weeks after the Employer commenced his employment, he was injured while performing rectification works on an automatic panel lift garage door.

The Employer was attempting to raise a spring anchor wall bracket when high-tensioned springs unwound, this caused the bracket to break away from the wall and strike the Employer’s left hand. As a result, the Employee sustained a compound fracture in his thumb.

The Employee’s case

The Employee alleged that its Employer was negligent by failing to provide the Employee with adequate training.

At first instance, the Employee made a successful claim for damages against the Employer under the Civil Law (Wrongs) Act 2002 (ACT). In 2016, the Magistrates Court found that the Employer breached its duty of care in failing to train the Employee in the methods required to perform minor rectification works. Magistrate Lisbeth Campbell found that the Employer should have explicitly warned the Employee that the method was not an acceptable method for adjusting brackets. Although, it was found that the employee was 50 per cent contributorily negligent in failing to take reasonable care for his own safety.

The Employee was awarded $95,929 as a result.

This case was later considered by the Supreme Court who found that the Employer was not liable for the Employee’s injury at all. It was held:

“…satisfied the scope of the appellant’s [the defendant’s] duty did not extend to providing minute details in respect of a work practice never anticipated by the appellant and in circumstances where the respondent [the plaintiff] was the author of his own misfortune.”

The Employee appealed this decision. On appeal, the Employee argued that the Employer was negligent in failing to warn him of all the circumstances where the bracing method could not be used safely, which created a risk of him using it as a shortcut for making minor adjustments.

The decision of the Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal acknowledged that it is well established that an Employer owes an Employee a duty of care, however it warned against the general application of finding that an Employer has breached its duty of care. It noted that each case must be examined on its own unique facts and circumstances.

The Court of Appeal examined the mechanism of a motorised panel lift door at paragraphs [9]-[16] of the Judgment. The Court of Appeal also considered the degree of training that was provided to the Employee, and noted:

  • although the Employee was an experienced and qualified carpenter, he had no previous experience in the installation or repair of automated garage doors of the kind supplied by the Employer
  • the Employee had an initial induction session where he was provided with manufacturer’s product and installation manuals
  • the Employee undertook training all through his first week of work by an experienced employee, which included training of tension in springs and included warning regarding the bracing method (established by the evidence)
  • in addition to the first week of training, the Employee had a further five weeks of work under the supervision and direction of experienced employees before he undertook jobs alone.

The Court of Appeal ultimately found that the Employee was given specific directions in relation to tension in springs, and stated:

“The “proper practices” intentionally not followed by Mr Jancevski were the very practices in respect of which he had been trained. The demonstration of the bracing method did not give rise to any further duty to warn Mr Jancevski in the terms identified by the Magistrate. The learned appeal judge was correct to so find.”

Lessons for employers

This decision is a helpful reminder of the importance of providing adequate training to employees and documenting the training that has been undertaken.

While an employer’s duty of care to protect its employees is an onerous one, it does not extend to protecting an employee against each and every minute risk. Each case will ultimately turn on its own facts and the degree of training which is appropriate for each set of unique circumstances.