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Former registered nurse awarded $1.6m after injury from avoiding a distressed patient

Trinet Ruth Wilson v Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service [2023] QSC 135

The matter was heard in the Brisbane Supreme Court between 5-8 December 2022, 13 December 2022 and then resumed for 20 and 21 February 2023 before Her Honour, Ryan J.

Her Honour delivered judgement for the Plaintiff in the amount of $1,634,418.55 on 23 June 2023.


The Plaintiff is a 46-year-old former registered nurse who sustained a sacroiliac joint injury and secondary psychological injury in the course of her employment on 12 March 2016 working at the Specialist Medical Unit of the Robina Hospital.

On 12 March 2016, the Plaintiff was assisting a registered nurse “X” and two security officers administer a sedative to a patient who was laying supine in bed. The patient was a petite and frail 59-year-old female who suffered dementia. X administered the patient with intramuscular sedative injection while the two security officers at each side of the bed held the patient’s arms. The Plaintiff was standing at the base of the bed holding the patient's legs so X could administer the sedative. At the completion of the sedative injection, X, the security officers, and the Plaintiff released the patient.

The patient then kicked out her legs in the direction of the Plaintiff which resulted in the Plaintiff abruptly jerking back and twisting in a reflex response. The Plaintiff left the room and later in the day went to squat down to flush another patient’s cannula when she felt right sacroiliac pain.

Liability Decision

The Plaintiff submitted the situation with the patient was an emergency and argued the Defendant did not respond appropriately to a Code Black call, or adequately by calling for ‘back up’ and there was a failure to train the Plaintiff in restraint of a patient.

The Defendant submitted:

  • The incident was not a Code Black. It contended that what prompted the security to the incident was a ‘7777’ phone call for security to assist, not a 222-emergency call or duress alarm call.
  • The response of sending two security officers to assist was adequate. The Defendant’s security incident report was tendered as evidence noting the patient “..was lightly restrained by PSOS in order that meds could be given safely..”.
  • The situation with the patient was an emergency and there was no time to wait for a third security officer.
  • At the time of the Plaintiff’s reflex action of jerking back and twisting, any restraint of the patient had ended.

Her Honour acknowledged that there was a call made to security for assistance prompting the appearance of two security officers to the ward rather than a Code Black call. However, she found the matter was a Code Black incident.

Her Honour found the two security offers who attended to the patient should have then called for one or more extra security officers to assist the restraint of the patient. Her Honour found the risk posed by the patient was not insignificant while she was prone on the bed with the security officers restraining her arms.

Her Honour found the Defendant breached its duty of care because of the:

  1. Failure to instruct the Plaintiff not to be involved in the physical restraint of the patient.
  2. Failure of the two security officers who attended the patient to call for a third security officer to take part in the restraint, rather than the Plaintiff.

Quantum Decision

The Plaintiff became a registered nurse in or around 2012. She had a significant history of pre-existing spinal issues that necessitated hybrid surgery involving spinal fusion at L5/S1 and disc replacement at L4/L5 in 2015.

The Plaintiff and Defendant’s submissions relating to the Plaintiff’s economic loss related to the nature and extent of her pre-existing condition and hybrid surgery impacting her ability to work as a nurse irrespective of the 12 March 2016 incident.

In relation to economic loss, Her Honour accepted while there was a risk of the Plaintiff developing sacroiliac joint symptoms anyway, the development of symptoms preventing her from working at all, rather than symptoms preventing her from working for several days here and there, was not likely to have occurred by now [time of the trial]. She acknowledged a small risk of that occurring and proceeded on the basis that the Plaintiff would have probably been promoted, although there was some uncertainty around her capacity for work full-time with a child still at school. She reduced the award of past economic loss by 12.5% to account for these matters.

On future economic loss, Her Honour discounted the assessment by 50% based broadly on the vicissitudes of life, for the contingency that she might not have worked full time with penalty shifts every year of her working life - either because if the demands of her as a mother or because she might choose not to work that intensely, particularly in the last 10 years of her working life, and because of the pre-existing state of her sacroiliac joint and/or the consequences of the pre-incident hybrid surgery.

Her Honour allowed a global sum for future expenses relating to medical attendances, pharmaceuticals and travel. She acknowledged the Plaintiff claimed the cost of anti-depressant medication however the Plaintiff was not taking anti-depressant medication at the time of the trial, noting it had not worked in the past. Her Honour decided that while the Plaintiff may try anti-depressants again, she was not persuaded the Plaintiff would continue to take them for the rest of her life.

A copy of the judgement can be found here.