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Worker Sues 20 Years After Injury

Workplace InjuryThe Case

The district court of NSW has found an employer was not liable for injuries after an injured worker claimed damages 20 years after an incident left him with a lower back injury.

Just three days into his employment as a storeman he had suffered a back injury while lifting boxes.

In the following 20 years, the worker had been employed as a teacher and had reinjured his back on multiple occasions, including once in a minor car accident.

He then claimed damages against his former employer alleging that the ongoing symptoms were a result of the original injury.

Two determining factors of the case were:

  • Whether the injured worker’s ongoing symptoms were caused by the original injury or due to a hereditary spinal condition (degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine), and
  • Was the injured worker entitled to claim damages 20 years after the original injury?

Injury vs Spinal Degeneration

Multiple radiologist reports found the worker suffered from a hereditary condition known as degenerative disc disease, where the cushion-like discs between the spinal vertebrae wear out prematurely.

A submission to the court from a spinal surgeon expressed the opinion that:

“… his present symptoms are due to a gradual progression of the disease.”

Time-Frame Limitations

Under Section 151(D) of the Workers Compensation Act 1987 (NSW) claims cannot be made for damages more than 3 years after the date of the original injury unless the delay is granted by the court overseeing the proceedings. In relation to the almost two-decade delay in the claim, the court found that:

“From the period of time from the fusion (operation) in 2015 onwards, the plaintiff’s solicitors should have been alert to the likelihood of a common law claim.”

The case was dismissed and the plaintiff was ordered to pay the defendant’s court costs.

For more cases like this, visit our Case Studies page.

Full court summary can be found at Hibbs v Ready Workforce Australia

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