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Future earnings capacity debated

Simmons v Wanless & another [2014] QDC

Kingham DCJ

13 February 2014

In this case, liability was not disputed, but the issue that was contested was the extent of the worker's future earnings capacity.

Background

The worker's (the Plaintiff) left hand was severely lacerated while she was working as a kitchen hand. On 20 April 2010, she was cleaning the large metal drip tray for the grill. It fell from the bench and, instinctively, she reached out and tried to catch it. A sharp edge cut her hand from the webbing between her second and third fingers halfway down her palm.

After surgery, the worker tried to return to work but was unable to fully use her left hand, experiencing pain, loss of sensation and reduced grip strength. She was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome.

The employer (the Defendant) concedes there is a causal connection between the accident and the carpal tunnel condition. Carpal tunnel decompression surgery provided initial relief, except for residual weakness in her hand.

Later, the worker said the pain and loss of sensation returned. Apart from another unsuccessful trial in a hospitality role and a few short term engagements, the worker has not worked since the carpal tunnel surgery.

Liability

Although the employers admit liability to compensate her for her injury, the amount of the damages was in dispute. The issue in contention was the extent of the Plaintiff's residual earning capacity. Dr Coleman and Dr Anne White gave evidence for the Defendants, and Dr van der Walt and Dr Stephen Hoey gave evidence for the Plaintiff.

Judgment

In the judgment, Kingham DCJ considered general damages, past economic loss (between the time of the injury and the time of the trial) and whether this should be discounted for some uncertainty as to what the worker may have earned in a sedentary occupation. The judge also considered future economic loss, including how much the award should be discounted for contingencies.

Kingham DCJ accepted the worker at face value and allowed her the whole of her loss both to date and through to retirement at age 67, with an application of 10% on account of contingencies.

The judgment for the Plaintiff totalled $527,462.14 clear of the WorkCover refund.