In this alert, Senior Associate Aaron Clark and Solicitor Hannah
Staunton discuss the recent Queensland District Court decision of
Eaton v TriCare (Country) Pty Ltd  QDC 173, where an
administration assistant was unsuccessful in her claim for damages
against her employer for a psychiatric injury because she failed to
establish the requisite element of reasonable foreseeability.
Facts and relevant law
TriCare (Country) Pty Ltd (the employer)
employed the plaintiff as an administration assistant in 2007 at a
nursing home in Point Vernon in Queensland.
The plaintiff alleged that she sustained a psychiatric injury as
a consequence of being overworked and workplace bullying and
harassment on arrival of a new manager. In particular, the
plaintiff alleged a number of incidents involving inappropriate
communication and tone from her manager. These included:
threats to sack staff in response to an anonymous complaint
about the manager's behaviour;
being told by her manager to "get over it"
and "nobody likes you anyway"; and
disparaging comments about the Plaintiff being from New
The plaintiff alleges that throughout the alleged period of time
she suffered from considerable stress which was demonstrated
through her change in character and demeanour (more negative),
appearing withdrawn, worried and crying in the workplace.
Queensland District Court Judge Devereaux SC was critical of
some aspects of the defendant's corporate culture and the
leadership style of the manager concerned. He found the manager had
regularly conducted herself in an unreasonable manner towards the
plaintiff but did not find the manager made the statement
"nobody likes you anyway".
Despite this, he ultimately ruled the plaintiff's claim must
His Honour was not satisfied that the plaintiff had proven, on
the balance of probabilities, that the risk of the plaintiff
sustaining a recognisable psychiatric illness was reasonably
foreseeable. The plaintiff had not reported the manager's
conduct to her superiors and they were not on notice in respect of
the manager's conduct.
In his judgment His Honour referred to one of the accepted legal
tests for reasonable foreseeability in Australia as established in
the decision of Koehler v Cerebos (Australia) Limited
(2005) 222 CLR 44:
"'The central inquiry
remains whether, in all the circumstances, the risk of a plaintiff
.... sustaining a recognisable psychiatric illness was reasonably
foreseeable, in the sense that the risk was not far-fetched or
fanciful." [paragraph 33].
His Honour noted that the plaintiff was not in a vulnerable or
special position that the employer should have been aware of.
Further, the plaintiff's owns representations regarding her
agreement to undertake the work role of an administration assistant
and her fitness for the role essentially undermined her own
contention that her employer ought to have appreciated that the
performance of her work duties posed a risk of injury to her
Because the plaintiff failed to demonstrate the reasonable
foreesability of a psychiatric illness arising from the
plaintiff's workload and her supervisor's conduct, His
Honour concluded that the duty of care the employer owed to the
plaintiff was not engaged.
Take away points
This decision reaffirms the principle that workers will only be
successful in a negligence claim against their employer if he/she
can establish that the risk of sustaining a recognisable
psychiatric illness was reasonably foreseeable by the
Employers should ensure they have appropriate policies and
procedures in place to implement if they become aware of, or are
put on notice of, the risk of an employee sustaining a psychiatric
Employers may still face significant exposure under statutory
workers' compensation regimes associated with reasonable
management action and psychiatric injury. Knowledge of the
obligations under these regimes is vital to reduce an
employer's escalating costs associated with an adverse claims
An employee that refused a reasonable offer of settlement was ordered by the FWC to pay his ex-employer's legal costs.
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