Pick-packer wins appeal to recover damages for back injury

Injured picker-packer, Mr Williams, successfully has decision of the District Court of NSW overturned in the NSW Court of Appeal.

Mr Williams was employed as a picker-packer in a product distribution centre operated by Metcash Trading Ltd when he sustained a back injury and associated psychological injury. This was a result of lifting two boxes of dog food onto a pick slot that was 1.4 metres high.

At first instance, the judge found Metcash Trading Ltd to have breached the duty of care in respect of the dimensions of the rack but ruled that the breach was not causative of the injury. The judge found the injury was caused solely by the plaintiff’s own conduct in lifting two boxes of Chum at a time and found contributory negligence. Had the claim been successful, the trial judge would have applied a 20% reduction due to contributory negligence.

Mr Williams appealed and was successful. The NSW Court of Appeal found that the primary judge’s finding on causation ‘was vitiated by the failure to consider whether the injury would not have occurred because a higher pick slot afforded the appellant an opportunity to employ a safer method of lifting that was impossible to use if the pick slot were only 1.4 meters (at [66]).’

Negligence was evident and the Court ruled that it was virtually impossible to pick the product using safe lifting and handling techniques prescribed by the employer. The appeal as to liability was upheld in favour of the plaintiff.

This case is noteworthy, due to its implications for both workers and employers. It highlights the extent to which the courts are willing to find contributory negligence sufficient to break the chain of causation between the employer’s negligence and the injury suffered. Further, it highlights the importance of safety standards and regard to the logistics of moving stock in warehouse – both for the safety of works and liability for employers.

The decision of Williams v Metcash Trading Ltd [2019] NSWCA 94 can be read in full here.

Scott Eveleigh
McAuley Hawach Lawyers
11 Fennell Street, Parramatta NSW 2124
Telephone: (02) 9633 1826
Web: www.mcauleyhawach.com.au
Email: reception@mhl.net.au  

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