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Sales assistant awarded damages from a psychological injury as a result of robbery

Funnell v Michael Hill Jeweller (Australia) Pty Ltd [2019] QDC 255

Judge Kent QC – Southport District Court

Delivered on 13 December 2019

Background

The worker was a sales assistant at a Michael Hill Jewellery Store at Helensvale.

On 1 November 2015, the worker was serving a customer who was enquiring about a heavy gold chain.  The customer asked for the 'best price' on the chain and the worker took the chain from the display cabinet and scanned it at the register.  She returned the chain to the cabinet when the customer asked if he could feel the weight of the chain. She removed it from the cabinet again and held it in front of her with both hands.  Because she was suspicious of his motives, she asked the customer for ID. He lunged forward over the counter and attempted to wrestle the chain from the worker.  The chain broke and he ran off.

The worker suffered a psychological injury as a result of the snatch and grab event.

Issues in dispute

The worker's case against the employer was that it ought to have:

  • Had security guards at the store;
  • Had different doors that closed in the store and prevented an easy escape;
  • Alerted customers to the fact CCTV operated in the store; and
  • Instructed staff to ask for ID before removing jewellery from the cabinet for all expensive items.

The trial judge found the first three measures were overly burdensome or would have been of limited effect.  His Honour found however, that whilst the employer had in place a policy of requiring staff to secure ID before removing items over $20,000 from the cabinet, this policy ought to have been applied to items over $2,000 and that had such a policy been in place, the worker would have followed it and the snatch and grab would not have occurred.

It was noted by the Court that the employer had altered its policy a few months prior to trial to reduce the value of items for which ID was required to $2,000. The evidence of the employer for the recent policy change was a significant spike in robberies including violent robberies in Victoria in the preceding months.

Judgement

In finding against the employer, His Honour found:

  • It was reasonably foreseeable a person may sustain a psychological injury in a snatch and grab event;
  • It was accepted by the worker that she knew to ask for ID before removing an item over $20,000 from the cabinet;
  • It was accepted by the worker that she was suspicious of the customer and therefore asked for ID;
  • It was accepted by the worker that she knew to keep the jewellery well away from the customer given her suspicion;
  • It was accepted by the worker she had failed to engage in her mandatory sales training of engaging with the customer before removing the item from the cabinet;
  • Despite the above, the worker had not been instructed to ask for ID for this item and had she been so instructed she would have done so before removing from the cabinet.

The worker was awarded $270,439.33 in damages.