Supreme Court rules in favour of MurphySchmidt client with serious permanent impairment

A MurphySchmidt client recently received a Supreme Court judgment in her favour after sustaining serious injuries from inhaling fertilizer dust at work.

Our client was employed by Bunnings and, as part of her job, was required to sweep up spilt garden fertilizer for over two hours without a mask or other protective clothing or equipment.  She subsequently suffered pneumococcal meningitis, encephalitis and septicaemia and was left with a serious permanent impairment.

The issue to be decided by the Court was whether our client’s serious illness was caused by her employment or was simply coincidental with the work she did that day.  Four medical specialists gave evidence at trial.  Two of them thought there was a causal connection on the balance of probabilities.  The other two thought the connection was “certainly not implausible”, but were not prepared to say the probable cause was inhalation of dust at work.

Justice Wilson carefully considered the common law test of causation, which is significantly different to the scientific method of determining causation.  He confirmed that if medical science is prepared to say a connection is possible, then it is up to the Court to decide, using a common sense approach, if it is probable.

In our client’s case, the close connection in time between inhalation of the dust and the onset of her illness, the type and amount of dust to which she was exposed and the severity of her symptoms all led the Court to find that the connection was compelling.  It decided liability had been established and found in favour of our client.

This outcome was particularly welcome as other solicitors had advised our client they were unable to assist her and, by the time she consulted us, she was out of time to apply for workers’ compensation.  Applications to the Medical Assessment Tribunal and a judicial review application to the Supreme Court were required to get to the point where our client even had an entitlement to pursue a common law claim for damages.  The long road to establish that entitlement and pursue a claim has now proven worthwhile.

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