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Employer obliged to conduct inspections to ensure workplace is safe even in the absence of prior incidents

Covey v State of Queensland [2017] QSC 23

North J

27 February 2017

In the Supreme Court in Townsville His Honour North J awarded the Plaintiff 1.6m in damages for injuries sustained when she fell at work.

The facts

The Plaintiff, a physiotherapist employed at the Charters Towers Hospital, fell when ascending a set of internal stairs.

She suffered an injury to her shoulder and a secondary psychiatric injury due to chronic pain.

The stairs had been in use for many years without incident or complaint, including by the Plaintiff.

Allegations against employer

The allegations included a failure to comply with building codes and standards as well as failure to provide a safe place of work.

Trial judge's findings

The trial judge accepted engineering evidence that there were, in some cases subtle, differences in the heights of the risers which caused her fall and that the employer should have had a system of inspection in place, especially given evidence as to the increased use of stairs in modern times (e.g. for health and fitness purposes).

It was a breach of the employer's duty not to have turned its mind to the safety of the stairway.

As to the amount of damages, it was found that the Plaintiff, who was 32 at the time of trial, would not return to her career as a physiotherapist and though she had since obtained a law degree, she would find it difficult to obtain employment as a graduate lawyer, as she was limited to part time roles.