Australia: Garbage Truck Mechanical Arm Accident Found Not to be a CTP Claim:

Suncorp Metway Insurance Limited v Sichter
Last Updated: 18 June 2010
Article by Richard Clayton and Richard Clayton

Suncorp Metway Insurance Limited v Sichter & Ors [2010] QSC 164

The plaintiff was standing adjacent to a wheelie bin which had been positioned on the edge of a footpath when a garbage truck fitted with a mechanical arm grabbed and crushed his right leg against the side of the bin and lifted him and the bin into the air.

Daubney J was asked to determine whether the plaintiff's claim was subject to the Motor Accident Insurance Act 1994 (Qld) ('MAIA') which governs personal injury claims resulting from motor vehicle accidents and Queensland's compulsory third party insurance scheme.

He determined that it was not.


Section 5(1) of the MAIA provides that the Act applies to personal injury caused by, through or in connection with a motor vehicle – as a result of the driving of the motor vehicle, a collision with the motor vehicle, the motor vehicle running out of control, or a defect in the motor vehicle causing loss of control of the vehicle – and is caused wholly or partly by a wrongful act or omission in respect of the motor vehicle by a person other than the injured person.

Daubney J was asked to determine the following specific issues:

  • Whether the plaintiff's injury was as a result of the driving of the motor vehicle
  • Whether the plaintiff's injury was as a result of a collision with the motor vehicle.

Driving of the motor vehicle

Daubney J referred to various decisions that discussed 'driving of the motor vehicle' including:

  • Portlock v Baulderstone Hornibrook Engineering Pty Limited [2005] NSWSC 775 where Hoeben J, after considering whether a mobile crane which was in a stationary position and tipped over injuring the person, concluded that:

    'The plaintiff was not "driving" the crane when the accident occurred. The crane was stationary. No locomotion was intended or attempted. All that the plaintiff was doing was controlling the lifting mechanism of the crane. In those circumstances I am of the opinion that the injury did not occur as a result of nor was it caused during the driving of the crane'
  • Motor Accident Commission v ANI Corp Limited & Anor [1997] 26 MVR 57 where Cox J recognised the need to distinguish between a vehicle's different functions, so that it may be driven on one occasion and used in a different mode immediately although possibly all within a single overall activity
  • Transport Accident Commission v Treloar [1992] 1 VR 447 which concerned injuries sustained by Mrs Treloar as she boarded a bus. She lost her footing on the second step and fell onto the lowest step and was injured. McGarvie and Gobbo JJ stated:

    'An incident is caused by the driving of a motor car if it is caused by some feature of the driving such as the speed at which, the inattention with which or the place to which the car is driven'.

McGarvie and Gobbo JJ concluded by finding that:

'The fall which resulted in Mrs Treloar's injury was not a direct consequence of the driving of the bus nor was the driving a factor which directly contributed to the fall'. .

Turning to the present claim, Daubney J found that when the garbage truck was brought to a stationary position beside the wheelie bin, there was no movement in the traditional sense of 'driving' as the driver of the truck had engaged the mechanical arm of the truck in order to grab and raise the wheelie bin. Accordingly, Daubney J found that the driving of the vehicle had ceased, albeit temporarily.

Daubney J also found that the plaintiff's injury was not caused by the speed with which the truck was driven or the place to which it was driven. However, the injury was caused by the allegedly negligent operation of the lifting device attached to the truck. Accordingly, Daubney J found that the injury was not a result of the 'driving' of the motor vehicle in accordance with s5(1)(a)(i) of the MAIA.

Collision with the motor vehicle

Daubney J referred to the leading decision of Townsville Trade Waste Pty Limited v Commercial Union Assurance Company of Australia Limited [1999] QCA 386 where the court was concerned with whether an incident where an employee was crushed by the falling body of a garbage truck was a 'collision' under s5(1)(a)(ii) of the MAIA. The majority of the Queensland Court of Appeal held that the facts in that decision did not fall within the definition of 'collision' under the MAIA. Specifically, Daubney J referred to the decision of Davies JA who found:

'The critical subparagraph, subpar (ii) is not restricted in its operation to an injury resulting from a collision with a motor vehicle, but the question is whether it is, like the other subparagraphs, restricted to an injury resulting from a collision with a vehicle (whether moving or stationary) in its capacity or function as a motor vehicle'.

Daubney J also referred to the decision of AMP General Insurance Limited v Kull [2005] 44 MVR 339 where Hodgson JA, after discussing the meaning of 'collision', held:

'The contact of a pedestrian with a stationary vehicle could possibly fall within that expression; and such a collision could be with an appendage to the vehicle, such as a wing mirror. But there at least has to be injury caused by an impact that can fairly be described as a collision with a vehicle, that is, an impact due to the mutual motion of whatever collides with the vehicle and the vehicle itself'.

Ultimately, Daubney J found that the present incident could not really be described as a 'collision'. Rather, the plaintiff was picked up or 'collected' by the lifting mechanism of the truck. Further, there was no 'mutual motion' as referred to by Hodgson JA above, between the truck and the plaintiff.

In the circumstances, the incident was not a result of a 'collision' with a motor vehicle.


Being injured by a mechanical arm is an unusual occurrence which can hardly be considered to be a motor vehicle accident. The strict application of the legislation by the court has produced the common sense result one would expect.

Given that it was held that the MAIA does not apply, it would be expected that the public liability insurance effected by the business which owned and operated the garbage truck would respond to the claim.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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