The recent Supreme Court decision of Bakhit v Brisbane City Council  QDC 155 highlights the issue of consistency when determining liability owed by an employer.
The plaintiff alleged that he sustained injuries to his lower spine whilst employed by Brisbane City Council on 13 July 2011. The plaintiff submitted that his lower back was injured as a result of lifting and moving heavy concrete blocks, the concrete blocks were being used as temporary fencing blocks that weighed approximately 31.7kgs each.
The defendant disputed that an incident occurred as alleged by the plaintiff. It was submitted that a two person lifting system had been implemented that ensured the safety of its employees. The defendant also stated that it had provided the plaintiff with this system on the day of the incident and was also given instructions which the plaintiff failed to undertake. This therefore led to the plaintiff being involved in an obvious risk. As a result, the defendant submitted that the plaintiff’s claim ought to be dismissed and damages reduced entirely.
The plaintiff argued that:
- He was never told that two people should be used to lift the concrete blocks.
- The defendant breached its duty of care to the plaintiff.
- The defendant failed to provide him with adequate training in respect to safe manual handling techniques.
During the hearing, a co-worker of the plaintiff who worked on the date of the alleged incident gave evidence that the plaintiff used the lifting mechanism all the time and he did not see anyone lifting the concrete blocks alone. In addition, there was evidence of a meeting at the start of each workday where tasks were allocated to individuals. In this meeting, safety issues regarding the lifting of blocks by two people were discussed. Another witness corroborated the co-worker’s evidence saying that lifters were used and that there was a system in place for a “two man job” to move concrete blocks. A further witness, who is a nurse, conducted a training course to discuss safety techniques using mechanical aids and emphasizing the risk of workers lifting objects on their own, as it was unsafe to do so. This training was held for all workers and the Plaintiff was confirmed to have attended.
The trial judge held that there were numerous inconsistencies with the plaintiff’s submissions. The trial judge came to the conclusion that the combined effect of the inconsistencies in the plaintiff’s evidence regarding when he was injured, when he experienced the pain and the mechanism used for lifting concrete blocks made the plaintiff’s evidence unreliable and therefore could not be accepted.
The Judge held that the plaintiff failed to prove that he was injured in the manner alleged and therefore his claim was dismissed.
In order for a claim to be successful at common law it is prudent that evidence presented is consistent. The effect of multiple inconsistencies in a claim can lead to unreliable evidence and in turn lead the court to dismiss a claim in its entirety.
For more information on Workplace Injuries, click here.