Many people are injured at work every day. In Queensland, WorkCover is the independent, government-owned statutory insurer of all workers. They arrange compensation and medical care for accepted cases of workers in Queensland.
In a case before the Queensland Supreme Court, a Queensland Rail worker was injured at work in June 1999. She suffered a fracture of her right wrist, and some swelling and bruising to her right ankle. She had two surgeries as a result, and was subsequently diagnosed with reflex sympathetic dystrophy of the right lower arm. Thankfully, there was no long-term damage to her ankle. Queensland Rail funded her medical treatment. The plaintiff returned to work on restricted duties, and wore a splint on her right hand.
Unfortunately, in September 2000 (around 15 months after the initial injury), the plaintiff slipped and fell at home, and sustained fractures to both her left and right wrists. These fractures healed, but the consequence was the development of reflex sympathetic dystrophy of her left arm (the same condition as in her right arm).
When the plaintiff made Queensland Rail aware of her second injury, her workers compensation and medical funding were immediately terminated, and her appointments cancelled. Ultimately, she was terminated from her job in March 2002. The plaintiff engaged legal advice about her situation.
The plaintiff’s solicitor queried Queensland Rail about whether a medical assessment of her condition had been conducted by a professional. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff was medically assessed by the same orthopaedic surgeon who treated her injuries in the first instance. The surgeon wrote an assessment report, describing that the plaintiff “doesn’t have any useful function in the hand,” and notes “the severe pain that she has.”
The surgeon was specifically asked what portion of her injuries were attributable to the home-injury (not the work injury). He diagnosed a portion of 7.5% of her disability was due to her slip and fall at home.
Queensland Rail were described by the Court as being “clearly unhappy with the report” of the plaintiff’s surgeon, and they arranged for her to see a different surgeon. This is not uncommon in workers compensation claims. The plaintiff refused to attend the appointment with the new doctor, on the grounds that her existing surgeon had issued a proper report on her disability, and Queensland Rail had a copy of that report.
Queensland Rail were dissatisfied with this situation. They proposed to refer the matter to the Medical Assessment Tribunal – a panel of WorkCover that assesses a person’s fitness to work after an injury. Queensland Rail consulted a different Orthopaedic Surgeon, who questioned the accuracy of her diagnosis of reflex sympathetic dystrophy by her original surgeon.
The Court considered the WorkCover Queensland Act 1996 (Qld) (which was the current Act in force at the time of this judgment. It has since been replaced by the Workers Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld)). Justice Cullinane considered some inconsistencies in the Act, and subordinate Regulations, and referred to a number of cases in which Courts have commented on how inconsistencies in legislation should be dealt with.
Ultimately, Justice Cullinane found that despite some minor procedural error, any compensation to the plaintiff should not be disallowed merely because of administrative or clerical inconsistencies. The plaintiff’s injury was not specifically laid down in legislation (as most injuries are), but the Court found that that fact shouldn’t preclude the plaintiff from compensation, and her original surgeon’s report stood as valid. The plaintiff won her case, and her WorkCover application was amended to include the injury she suffered at home.