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Queensland Supreme & District Court Awards for Personal Injuries in 2023

In Queensland, the Supreme and District Courts are now closed for the holiday period, set to reopen on 29 January 2024. As the year ends, we look back on the decisions reported in 2023 with respect to claims for personal injuries.

In total, there were only 6 reported personal injury court decisions that had gone through a proper trial in the Supreme or District jurisdictions. Other trials for personal injury claims may have been held in 2023 but unless the judgment was included in an official law report series, they are not considered to have been published and therefore are not as authoritative as a ‘reported’ decision summarised herein.

For context, most personal injury claims resolve out of court. A trial for personal injuries is only heard in these courts if:

  • all efforts to resolve the claim informally have failed (including a compulsory conference, and usually a pre-trial mediation, and sometimes just hours before stepping into the court room itself); and
  • the dispute is for damages in excess of $750,000 for the Supreme Court, or between $150,000 – $750,000 for the District Court.

Injuries Caused by Motor Vehicle Accidents

Park v Nam & Anor [2023] QDC 140

Whilst this decision is ‘unreported’, a subsequent decision relating to legal costs was reported in Park v Nam & Anor (No. 2) [2023] QDC 189. In the original trial, a passenger claimed that personal injuries were sustained due to the negligence of the driver by colliding with a dead cow on a straight road at night. He alleged that the driver failed to use high beam headlights, drove at excessive speed, lacked care, and failed to keep a proper lookout. The CTP insurer, Allianz Australia Insurance Limited, denied negligence on the basis that the driver was about 20km/hr under the speed limit, shouldn’t have been expected to use highbeams as there was a vehicle coming from the opposite direction, and pointed out that two other drivers had also hit the dead cow at separate times indicating there was nothing specifically different or negligent about this incident as the driver acted as any typical driver would have in the circumstances.

The court cited Derrick v Cheung [2001] HCA 48 to effectively agree with Allianz, and stated that “the mere fact of a collision is not of itself evidence of negligence”. The court concluded that there was no evidence of negligence on the driver’s part and the claim was dismissed. The plaintiff was also ordered to pay Allianz’s legal costs.

Ford v Nominal Defendant [2023] QCA 83

We covered the case of Ford v Nominal Defendant in our blog post ‘Your responsibility to identify the registration number of the at-fault vehicle following a road accident‘.

In an original decision, the Supreme Court of Queensland rejected the claim of an injured motorbike rider who failed to make proper inquiries following a motor vehicle accident. The accident involved a ute overtaking the motorbike, resulting in a piece of timber falling off and causing injury to the rider. The rider did not record the ute’s registration plate, and instead of suing the relevant compulsory third party (CTP) insurer, brought the claim against the State of Queensland’s Nominal Defendant. The court initially dismissed the claim, arguing that the rider did not make proper inquiries. However, in the subsequent appeal, the court overturned the original decision, stating that the rider had established that “proper inquiry and search” and was not required to take further unreasonable steps to identify the ute’s registration plate in the circumstances, thus restoring a more reasonable standard for injured road users.

The plaintiff’s damages were agreed between the parties and not calculated by the court, so were not published in the decision.

Towell v Mooney & Allianz Australia Insurance Ltd [2023] QDC 130

In this case, the defendant accepted liability for injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident so the details of how the accident occurred were not explored. This was a ‘quantum only’ trial, which means that because liability was admitted, the only question was how much compensation should be paid to the plaintiff.

Allianz took issue with the plaintiff’s alleged failure to disclose pre-existing injuries and illnesses from six prior accidents in her initial claim notice. The defence argument was that the plaintiff therefore shouldn’t be considered as credible.

Credibility plays a significant role in determining the weight assigned to a plaintiff’s evidence. A lack of credibility may lead the court to question the validity of the plaintiff’s claims, potentially resulting in a reduction of the damages awarded (or even a dismissal of the case). An assessment of damages is closely tied to the believability and reliability of the evidence presented by the parties involved.

The court heard that the plaintiff had disclosed the other prior incidents to medico-legal specialists during independent medical examinations for the claim, and acknowledged the omission in her original claim form, stating that she only considered one of the prior incidents to be ‘significant’.

The court accepted the plaintiff’s justification. However, the decision underscores the importance of completing the initial claim notice diligently, especially by solicitors if they are representing a claimant. The case also highlighted the need to provide medico-legal experts with comprehensive documentation about a client’s pre-accident medical history. While the court may show some leniency, it certainly isn’t guaranteed, and non-disclosure can still impact a plaintiff’s credibility.

The plaintiff was awarded $285,122.63 in damages.

Are you considering making a claim for personal injuries as a result of a motor vehicle accident? Learn more here or contact ROCHE Legal for a free consultation.

Injuries Caused by Workplace Accidents

Speziali v Nortask Pty Ltd and anor [2023] QSC 166

Whilst this decision is ‘unreported’, a subsequent decision relating to legal costs was reported in Speziali v Nortask Pty Ltd and anor (No 2) [2023] QSC 204. In the original trial, the plaintiff claimed damages for injuries suffered by him in a work accident in 2017 where he was carrying out repair works to the metal flooring at the top of a 14.5m structure following a fire. The plaintiff suffered significant injuries when he slipped from a ladder attached to the structure, which he used to access the site of the repair works. The structure was wet and slippery, and the plaintiff was unable to wear a harness up/down the ladder, despite being able to anchor in at the top of the structure. On his descent, he used the industry standard ‘three points of contact’ but nevertheless slipped and fell approximately 10 metres onto a concrete slab at ground level, hitting parts of the structure on his way down.

The plaintiff sued his employer and the occupier of the property (as the owner of the structure), alleging that the ladder did not have an anti-slip coating and did not contain any ready mechanism for the attachment of a fall arrest harness, and was generally not up to the Australian Standard. The employer admitted liability, but the occupier did not. The occupier denied liability on the basis that the plaintiff was employed by a contractor that specialised in the repair task required, and could have used a manbox via crane on site to access the platform. The court rejected that argument, stating there is no specialisation required for descending a ladder and that the ladders were the logical means of persons accessing the top platform. The purpose of the use of the manbox via crane was to move materials and equipment unable to be safely brought up and down the ladders. The court also stated that the claim was not a case about an independent contractor being required to ascertain its own system of work; it was a case about “an occupier of premises making a method of access available to a person attending its premises in circumstances where it should have identified and fixed a non- compliance that made the method of access unsafe”.

In response to a defence argument of contributory negligence, reference was made to Bankstown Foundry v Braistina [1986] 160 CLR 301, where the judge considered the plaintiff’s descent down the ladder as being no more than a ‘mere inadvertence, inattention or misjudgement’ which absolved him from a finding of contributory negligence.

$1,341,573.00 was awarded in favour of the plaintiff as follows:

  • $899,254.00 [inclusive of the WorkCover refund of $355,177.33 and the common law rehabilitation refund of $15,934.55], 25% of which to be paid by the employer and 75% to be paid by the occupier.
  • A further $442,319.00 on account of past and future care was ordered to be paid by the occupier only.

Are you considering making a claim for personal injuries as a result of a workplace accident? Learn more here or contact ROCHE Legal for a free consultation.

Public Liability Claims

Sanders v Mount Isa Mines Limited & Ors [2023] QSC 188

A teenager, via her litigation guardian, brought a claim against Mount Isa Mines Limited alleging that lead poisoning from the mine caused brain damage she suffered as a baby (born in 2006) as she lived 3km away. Her case centred on the argument that her parents were unaware of the risks of lead absorption in children until they saw an advertisement in 2007 (when the plaintiff was about 1.5 years old).

Unfortunately for the plaintiff, the court found insufficient evidence linking Mt Isa Mines’ emissions to her injuries and she lost the claim.

Historical Sexual Abuse Claims

ADA v State of Queensland [2023] QSC 159

In this case, the plaintiff sought damages for psychiatric injuries resulting from two purported sexual assaults that occurred in 1968 and 1973 during her childhood while under the State’s care. The first incident allegedly involved an unnamed older male student at a school, while the second was said to involve a truck driver on her way home from school to the orphanage where she resided.

The State was informed of these alleged assaults only in 2021 and was unable to identify the perpetrators or locate any relevant records. The court acknowledged the State’s inability to investigate or contradict the plaintiff’s account due to the unidentified perpetrators, lack of witnesses, and absence of relevant documents. In light of these circumstances, the court characterised the State as being “utterly in the dark” on these crucial issues.

Ultimately, the court was convinced that the passage of time had prejudiced the State’s ability to disentangle the effects of the alleged sexual assaults from subsequent life stressors. As a result, a permanent stay of the proceedings was ordered.

Note: A ‘permanent stay’ is a legal order that permanently halts or terminates legal proceedings. It means that the case will not proceed to trial – an outcome not materially different to the plaintiff losing the claim.

Our Past Summaries

Read more summaries of reported decisions for personal injury claims in Queensland courts:

This commentary is published by Roche Legal for general information purposes only and should not be relied on as specific advice. The content relates to Queensland law only and is subject to change over time. You should seek legal advice for any question, or for any specific situation or proposal, before making any decision.