A Queensland Supreme Court judge has awarded damages to a hospital worker who injured her shoulder while assisting a co-worker to move a mattress at work but found contributory negligence on the part of the worker also played a role in the injury.
While the employer was held primarily liable for the injury, the judge found 25 per cent contributory negligence against the worker, reducing the total damages awarded to the worker.
In 2017, the worker, a patient support assistant (PSA) at Nambour General Hospital, injured her left shoulder when her arm became caught between a bed and a mattress that was being placed onto the bed by a fellow PSA at the hospital.
The worker said her colleague knew she was nearby and holding the mattress when he threw it from head height onto the bed. The colleague, however, said he was holding the mattress at hip height, and that the injured worker grabbed at the mattress without forewarning as he was sliding it onto the bed.
The worker sued Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service, for damages, alleging the employer had negligently caused her injury either through its system of work, or because it was vicariously responsible for the actions of her colleague.
The employer alleged contributory negligence from the worker for failing to take reasonable precautions against the risk of injury.
In court, Justice Hindman found that the employer was negligent, flowing from the colleague’s failure to give a verbal warning before placing the mattress on the bed, and the employer’s failure to have a system of work in place mandating a warning.
However, it was accepted that the injured worker intervened in the task without having been requested to assist and after her colleague clearly rejected her offer to assist.
Therefore, Justice Hindman found that the worker’s actions amounted to more than mere inadvertence, inattention, or misjudgement, and that her actions were interventionalist and unnecessary. Her Honour assessed contributory negligence at 25 per cent.
Take-away points for employers
- If a risk of harm in a regular work activity is foreseeable and not insignificant, such as moving a mattress, then a safe system of work should be established and followed.
- Courts are willing to reduce awards for contributory negligence on the part of the employer where the worker’s actions are found to be more than inadvertence or carelessness.