400k payout despite pre-existing condition


The Supreme Court of Queensland has ordered an employer to pay more than$400,000 in damages to a worker who suffered spinal injuries after a tyre fell on his head, despite extensive evidence of his pre-existing debilitations.

In 2002 a store man for Bridgestone Australia Ltd was trying to move a 40 kg truck tyre from a height when a tyre fell and landed on his head. He immediately felt pain in his head and neck but continued to work.

In a separate incident in November 2003, the worker was attempting to dislodge a jammed tyre, which released suddenly and jerked him. He immediately felt pain down his right arm, and took some time away from work. He returned to work but had to take strong analgesics to enable him to work. An MRIscan in 2004 showed he had a spinal disc protrusion.

No specific or formal admissions were made, but the employer accepted responsibility for the worker's injuries, which constituted a general admission that it was responsible for the circumstances which led to the worker's injury.

Despite this admission, the employer alleged that the incident was not the sole cause of the worker's incapacity, arguing instead that the disc protrusion existed prior to either of the workplace incidents. There was "clear disagreement" between medical specialists over whether this was the case.

Justice MargaretWhite concluded on the balance of the medical evidence that the disc protrusion was more than likely caused by the work-related trauma.

She heard that the worker also had occasional episodes of low back pain dating back as far as1998 but she was not persuaded that this condition would have imposed the same restrictions on the worker as the workplace incidents did.

Nevertheless,she said, the worker's existing low back problems would be taken into account when calculating damages to reflect the possibility that the worker would eventually have had to look for more restricted work because of these problems and not because of the injuries suffered at work. She reduced the calculation of his future earning capacity by 25 per cent on this basis.

Justice White took into account the worker's past economic loss, lost earning capacity, future pain and suffering, and future costs such as medical expenses. She ordered the employer to pay the worker a total of $407,775.