QLD Workers’ Compensation – Worker awarded significant damages for fall from ladder: Speziali v Nortask Pty Ltd & Anor [2023] QSC 166

Qld Workers’ Compensation – Worker Awarded Significant Damages For Fall From Ladder Speziali V Nortask Pty Ltd & Anor [2023] Qsc 166

The Supreme Court of Queensland has recently awarded damages to a worker whom sustained significant injuries when he fell from a ladder whilst conducting repairs on a silo. The court’s reasons contain a discussion with respect to the apportionment of liability between the Plaintiff’s employer, and the occupier of a premises at which the Plaintiff was working at the time of the subject accident

Background

The Plaintiff, Steven Speziali, was employed by the First Defendant, Nortask Pty Ltd (‘Nortask’). Nortask carried on the business of civil construction and engineering for the mining, gas, and energy sectors.  

On the day of the subject accident, Nortask was carrying out repair work at the premises of the Second Defendant, Dalby Bio-Refinery Limited (‘DBRL’). The Plaintiff was tasked with repair work on dryer plant, which included a silo referred to as the cyclone. The cyclone stood at approximately 14.5 metres tall. At its top was a platform, accessible from the ground by way of three ladders and two intermediary platforms.  

The Plaintiff alleged that he was descending the top ladder of the cyclone in a careful manner, having regard to the prevailing weather conditions, when he lost his footing and fell. Rather than landing on the intermediary platform, he tumbled over the guardrails on this platform and on to a concrete slab at the base of the silo. The court accepted that the subject accident occurred generally as described by the Plaintiff. 

Position of the Parties - Liability

Nortask accepted liability in respect of the Plaintiff’s injury.  

DBRL alleged that Nortask breached a duty of care to undertake repair works on its premises with due care and skill. DBRL further alleged contributory negligence against the Plaintiff.  

In respect of the apportionment and contribution as between the Defendants, Nortask submitted that the proper apportionment between itself and DBRL was 25%/75%. DBRL submitted that an apportionment of 0%/100%, or no more than 10%/90%, was appropriate. 

Judgment

The court found in favour of the Plaintiff. The court considered the key failure in the access system to the silo to be an unacceptably large gap between the bottom of a steel cage that surrounded the top ladder and the guardrails of the intermediary platform, which gave rise to a situation in which someone that slipped from the top ladder may not have their fall arrested by the guardrails.  

Hindman J opined that DBRL breached its duty to take reasonable precautions against a risk of injury to the Plaintiff. Her Honour was not persuaded by submissions made on behalf of DBRL that it should be absolved of some or all responsibility on account of Nortask being an independent contractor specialised in the task that the Plaintiff was performing at the time of his injury. As her Honour remarked “[t]here is no specialisation required for the ascending and descending of a ladder.” In the court’s conception, the circumstances of the incident were one of an occupier of a premises failing to ensure that the method of access available to an individual on that premises being unsafe. 

Whilst confirming that a duty of care was owed by Nortask to DBRL, the court found that Nortask had not breached that duty. In respect of the apportionment between the Defendants, Hindman J cited the maxim of “equity is equality”, rejecting DBRL’s submission that liability should be apportioned 0%/100% against Nortask. Her Honour regarded the dominant cause of the Plaintiff’s injury to be the gap between the steel cage and guardrail. Having already established that this failure was that of DBRL, her Honour opined that DBRL should bear a significantly larger proportion of liability, accepting Nortask’s submission that the apportionment should be 25% to it and 75% to DBRL. Hindman J suggested that this submission was generous in favour of DBRL, and a larger apportionment might properly have been sought by Nortask against it.  

The court absolved the Plaintiff from a finding of contributory negligence.  

Damages

The court ordered: –  

  • a. Judgment for the Plaintiff against Nortask in the sum of $899,254.00, inclusive of the WorkCover refund and common law rehabilitation refund; 
  • b. Judgment for the Plaintiff against the DBRL in the sum of $1,341,573.00, comprised of $899,254.00 (inclusive of the WorkCover and common law rehabilitation refunds), plus $442,319.00 for past and future care  

 

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