Australia: High Court finds Section 12(2) of Civil Liability Act does not limit damages claims under Compensation to Relatives Act

Last Updated: 12 May 2014
Article by Debbie Kaminskas

In brief - High Court overturns decisions of Supreme Court and Court of Appeal

The High Court's April 2014 decision in Taylor v The Owners – Strata Plan 11564 [2014] HCA 9 reviewed the relationship between section 12 of the Civil Liability Act 2002 (CLA) and section 3 and section 4 of the Compensation to Relatives Act 1897 ("Relatives Act").

Approaching the matter as one of statutory interpretation and declining to import words into the CLA which would make the relevant section applicable to the operation of the Relatives Act, the High Court overturned the decisions of the primary judge in the NSW Supreme Court and NSW Court of Appeal.

Widow commences legal action after husband killed by collapsing awning

Susan Joy Taylor is the widow of the late Mr Craig Taylor. Mr Taylor was killed when an awning outside a shop in Balgowlah collapsed. Mrs Taylor commenced proceedings in the NSW Supreme Court seeking damages under sections 3 and 4 of the Relatives Act.

The Relatives Act provides an avenue to compensation for close relatives who previously relied on the financial or other support of the deceased person where that person's death is caused by negligence.

Section 12 of the Civil Liability Act

Section 12 of the CLA provides:

  1. This section applies to an award of damages:
    1. for past economic loss due to loss of earnings or deprivation or impairment of earning capacity, or
    2. for future economic loss due to deprivation/impairment of capacity, or
    3. for loss of expectation of financial support.
  1. In the case of any such award, the court is to disregard the amount (if any) by which the claimant's gross weekly earnings would (but for the injury or death) have exceeded an amount that is 3 times the amount of average weekly earnings at the date of the award.

Prior to his death, Mr Taylor was a land surveyor working in private practice. It was accepted that his earnings would have far exceeded an amount being three times the amount of average weekly earnings. The question for determination by the courts was whether the statutory limitations of section 12(2) of the CLA applied to the claim made by Mrs Taylor under the Relatives Act.

Supreme Court determines that CLA restriction should apply and "claimant" includes the deceased

At first instance, Justice Garling of the NSW Supreme Court held that the CLA restriction should apply to the claim under the Relatives Act so as to disregard amounts by which the deceased's gross weekly earnings would, but for his death, have exceeded an amount that is three times the amount of average weekly earnings at date of the award.

Justice Garling considered that the legislative purpose of section 12 of the CLA was to limit claims for damages and to restrict financial loss claims for high earning individuals. Further, he considered the definition of "claimant" as provided by the CLA should be construed as including the deceased upon whose earnings the Relatives Act claim was based.

Court of Appeal changes interpretation of Section 12(2) of the Civil Liability Act

The Court of Appeal (comprising Justices McColl, Basten and Hoeben) considered that the deceased was neither the person who was making the claim nor the person entitled to do so. The court considered that the literal meaning of section 12(2) did not apply to limit the amount that could be claimed by Mrs Taylor.

However, the majority of the court (McColl and Hoeben JJA) considered that the literal construction was inconsistent with the general purpose of the provision and determined that section 12(2) should be construed to read:

In the case of any such award, the court is to disregard the amount (if any) by which the claimant's or deceased person's gross weekly earning would (but for the injury or death) have exceeded an amount that is 3 times the amount of average weekly earnings at the date of the award.

High Court critical of approach of Court of Appeal and determines that deceased could not be the claimant

The majority of the High Court (Chief Justice French, Justices Crennan and Bell) was critical of the Court of Appeal's approach of adding words to section 12(2) of the CLA. In this case the addition was more than words being added to construe a statute to avoid a simple grammatical or drafting error.

The majority disagreed with the addition of the words "or deceased person's" to section 12(2), given that the result of such addition would be to limit the operation of the Relatives Act in a way not specifically addressed by the legislature.

The majority of the High Court also determined that the primary judge's construction of the "claimant" to include the deceased (so as to enliven section 12(2)) was incorrect. They considered that on no view could the deceased be the claimant.

High Court allows widow's appeal

Mrs Taylor's appeal was allowed - the High Court finding was that section 12(2) of the CLA did not limit Mrs Taylor's (or other relevant dependants') claim for damages pursuant to sections 3 and 4 of the Relatives Act.

It is now a question for the NSW parliament as to whether either the CLA or Relatives Act is amended to permit courts to apply the limitation in section 12(2) to claims arising from the Relatives Act.

Debbie Kaminskas
General liability
CBP Lawyers

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Debbie Kaminskas
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.