Why clear instruction and advice is integral to avoid workplace negligence claims

McCormack v Ethnic Community Care Links Inc [2017] QDC 102 is a Queensland District court decision involving the award of compensation following an injury occurring in the workplace. The plaintiff was successful in establishing that her injuries were caused by the negligence of the defendant organization.

The incident

The plaintiff, a social worker employed by the defendant, attended Ayr Hospital to meet a client of the defendant Mr Beltrame, (the client”) as his carer. Upon arrival, the plaintiff saw that her client was lying face down in the maxi taxi he had arrived in with his legs halfway out, appearing distressed. The plaintiff rang the defendant who instructed her to sit with the client, keep him calm and provide comfort to the client while she waited for assistance. The plaintiff followed the instructions, and continued to comfort the client while hospital employees assisted with removing the client from the maxi-taxi. As the client was being pulled out, the plaintiff kept him calm and put her hands on the client’s shoulder. The client then slipped and fell on the plaintiff’s shoulder. The plaintiff suffered an injury to her right shoulder as a result.

What was the legal issue?

The main dispute surrounds the issue of liability, specifically:

  • Whether the plaintiff acted within the scope of her duties in assisting the client in the manner she did. The defendant tried to argue that the plaintiff was acting outside of her scope and did not follow correct procedures; and
  • Whether the defendant breached it’s duty of care to take reasonable care to avoid exposing the plaintiff to unnecessary risk of injury.

Decision of the District Court

The Court held the defendant was liable as they had been negligent and had failed to meet their duty of care owed to the plaintiff.

Regarding the liability of the defendant, it was held that:

The plaintiff was carrying out the task instructed by the defendant to comfort the client, and had not been given clear and explicit instructions as to the extent of the comfort to be provided.[1] It was seen as unrealistic to require a support worker to provide undefined comfort to a client, especially in this situation where the client had a history of falls.[2] The Plaintiff acted reasonably by being in the taxi for the purpose of comforting the client, and it would have been unreasonable to comfort the client whilst outside of the vehicle; her act of comforting, even by placing hands on the client, was not careless and was established as being natural in the circumstances.[3] Furthermore, the plaintiff was not given any training or induction documents to specifically cover the situation she faced,[4] and she had done what she was told to do by the defendant when the injury occurred.[5] Therefore, the plaintiff did not act outside the scope of her employment.

There was other liability evidence brought before the court, namely a report made prior to the incident by an occupational therapist regarding the client and his specific needs. The defendant had ordered the report following a series of multiple ongoing falls at home. In the report, the occupational therapist had multiple ongoing falls at home. In the report, the occupational therapist had recommended to the defendant that the client be transported in a specialised ambulance which caters for his bariatric needs. The defendant had ignored this recommendation, which the court found contributed to the plaintiff’s injury occurring. Had the defendant followed the advice it would have considerably lowered the support workers risk of injury.[6] If the defendant was unwilling or unable to do what was expertly advised, they should not have exposed plaintiff to the risk. The risk of plaintiff injury in this case was plainly foreseeable.[7] Even if the employer thought that injury was unlikely to occur,[8]  the defendant should have put in place actions to avoid the risk.


This case highlights the importance of specific training and how clear instructions given by employers to employees will play a role in the determination of employer negligence. It also sets out the importance of avoiding reasonably foreseeable risks, especially when an employer has been cautioned by expert advice as to areas of risk and ways to minimize them.

For more information on Workplace Injuries, click here.

[1] McCormack v Ethnic Community Care Links Inc [2017] QDC 102 at [72].

[2] Ibid at [89].

[3] Ibid at 72].

[4] Ibid [91].

[5] Ibid at [90].

[6] Ibid at [88].

[7] Ibid at [75].

[8] Wyong Shire Council v Shirt (1980) 146 CLR 40 at [13].

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