On 29 November 2016, Judge Dorney of the Queensland District Court handed down his decision in House v Anglo Coal (Callide Management) Pty Ltd & Anor  QDC 303. The plaintiff, Glynn House, was injured when a tipper truck he was driving collided with the rear of another truck on a mine haul road. The plaintiff sued his employer, Workpac Pty Ltd, and Anglo Coal (Callide Management) Pty Ltd, with which his employer had contracted for the hire of the plaintiff’s labouring services at the mine site (which was owned and operated by Anglo Coal).
It was accepted by Anlgo Coal that it owed duties of an employer due to the relationship of proximity and the degree to which it controlled the system of work. Consequently, Anglo Coal was required to exercise reasonable care to avoid unnecessary risks of injury arising out of the ongoing conduct of its operations while it was performing its work. Nonetheless, Anglo Coal was entitled to expect that the plaintiff would exercise care in carrying out straight forward activities, of which Judge Dorney considered that driving a truck in dry conditions on a straight stretch of road in circumstances where the plaintiff had done so countless times before qualified as a straight forward activity.
At trial, Anglo Coal provided evidence, which was accepted by the plaintiff, that it had provided training to the plaintiff regarding safe travelling speeds and travelling distances between vehicles within the year prior to the accident. Based on the evidence provided at trial, Judge Dorney concluded that a significant cause of the accident, if not the sole cause of the accident was that the plaintiff had failed to keep a proper lookout for which he received appropriate training.
The plaintiff also alleged that Anglo Coal was vicariously liable for the conduct of the driver of the other dump truck by parking his truck and failing to alert other drivers to this on the radio. In considering this allegation, Judge Dorney noted that the recent High Court decision of Prince Alfred College Inc v ADC  HCA 37 (which included a reconsideration of vicarious liability) did not change the position with respect to how to approach vicarious liability (being that a wrongful act must be committed in the course of employment). Whilst it was accepted that the driver was acting within his employment, Judge Dorney did not consider that the driver had engaged in a wrongful act by slowing his vehicle down on a straight stretch of road with good visibility.
Despite His Honour finding that the defendants were not negligent, His Honour went on to assess the plaintiff’s damages. Interestingly, His Honour assessed the plaintiff’s general damages against Anglo Coal at common law, stating that he would have awarded the plaintiff general damages in the sum of $20,000 in the event the plaintiff had established liability. The damages against the plaintiff’s employer were assessed pursuant to the tables in the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (WCRA), which would have resulted in general damages in the sum of $4,720.
This case is a reminder to occupiers that engage workers from labour hire firms to ensure that they provide regular training to those workers. Even where the activities undertaken by workers seem to be straight forward, training will be important where there remains a risk of serious injury (such as driving heavy utility vehicles) and such training may well assist in deflecting liability in claims arising in such circumstances.