Court finds Linfox employee’s depression claim not linked to back injury

The Federal Court has found a truck driver’s claim for depression was not linked to a back injury he suffered a few years earlier and found his employer Linfox not liable.

The NSW Federal Court heard the appeal from an Administrative Appeals Tribunal which involved 44-year-old truck driver Stefan Pettge.

Pettge suffers from an underlying lumbar degenerative condition known as spondylosis and was employed by Linfox as a truck driver and to transport and unload roll-cages of supermarket goods on pallets from his truck.

Pettge injured his back in August 2008 while trying to move “heavy cages with stock jammed down between them” and claimed compensation for “lower back pain”.

Linfox was liable to pay Pettge compensation for the “sprain to lower back” and noted that “should you [Pettge] wish to claim compensation beyond 29 August 2008 you will be required to provide further medical evidence to support your claim.”

Almost a year later, in November 2009, Pettge requested Linfox review its determination, which the transport company did. It determined he was “now recovered from the effect of the sprain to the lower back… and is not presently incapacitated for work or requiring any medical treatment relevant to the injury”.

Pettge made a further claim in 2010 to Linfox for compensation for “disc prolapse lower back, arm and neck, and depression” that he said were linked to the original injury.

Linfox rejected the claim and Pettge then appealed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal which found there was no direct link between the new claim and previous injury.

“We consider that the length of time between the incident at work and the onset of neck pain and arm symptoms suggests that there is no direct causal link between the two,” the Tribunal found.

The Tribunal found Pettge’s depression was first reported in January 2010 in his general practitioner’s clinical notes and claimed for in November 2010.

It found Pettge’s injury had ceased by August 2009 and the pain he experienced after that time was due to his underlying degenerative disease and “his depression was not contributed to by his employment.”

Pettge appealed this decision to the Federal Court on the basis that he had been denied natural justice, as the tribunal had departed from an agreed fact, and that the tribunal had posed the wrong question.

He claimed the tribunal’s reasoning process, in particular its implicit adoption of the “unfortunate co-incidence” theory of workers’ compensation, was so unreasonable that no reasonable person could adopt it.

The Federal Court dismissed Pettge’s appeal on the basis that the “undisputed facts” he set out linking his back pain to depression and neck and arm symptoms were not accepted by Linfox as a common basis upon which the parties put their respective cases to the Tribunal.

SmartCompany contacted Linfox but the company declined to comment about the case.



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