A woman has lost her bid for workers’ compensation for a permanent injury after hurting herself while putting up office Christmas decorations 14 years ago.
Kay Brown, a former employee at the Murray Bridge Centrelink office in South Australia, claimed she “pulled a muscle in my bum” when she fell off her desk in December 2000 while hanging up festive decorations.
Comcare compensated the former public servant in 2011 after initially denying responsibility. However, a year later Brown lodged a claim for permanent impairment due to a lower-back injury she said was caused by the same fall in 2000.
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But when the case appeared before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, expert witnesses said Brown did not experience back pain until three months after the fall, which made it improbable that there was any link between the accident and subsequent back problems.
The tribunal also found Brown suffers from a degenerative disease that means even if she had not fallen in the office, she would still be living with the same level of impairment.
As a result, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal ruled Brown’s permanent impairment which she “undoubtedly suffers” was not compensable.
Andrew Klein, special counsel at Russell Kennedy Lawyers, told SmartCompany the case highlights how the “causal link” between the workplace accident and permanent injury was found to be broken because of a significant period where the applicant was symptom-free.
“The essential issue was it needed to be found that the injury occurred as a result of them having a fall while putting up the Christmas decorations and it resulted in her permanent impairment,” Klein says.
“The tribunal essentially found because she had a long or a significant period of being pain and symptom-free after the Christmas decoration fall in 2000, it broke the nexus.”
Klein also points out that it in cases that stretch back over a long period of time, it can be hard for the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to trace back what is “often a convoluted history of events, injuries, aggravations and flare-ups”.
“It’s often a very difficult exercise for the tribunal to sort and sift through the voluminous medical evidence that accumulates over that period and to sort through the various things that happen to an individual during that period,” Klein says.
“The case also highlights the absolute importance of contemporaneous medical evidence and confirms that contemporaneous medical evidence – that is, evidence that was taken at the relevant time – will always be preferred by the tribunal.”
Klein says this particular case also shows the importance of preserving evidence for both applicants and insurers.