Australia: Plaintiff's requests for information - just an exercise in running up legal costs

On 17 February 2016, Judge McGill SC of the District Court (Brisbane) delivered a decision in Healy v Logan City Council [2016] QDC 15, in response to an Application brought by the Plaintiff to compel the Defendant, Logan City Council ("Council"), to comply with a request for information under s.279 of the Workers Compensation & Rehabilitation Act 2003 ( "WCRA"). The plaintiff was successful in obtaining an order, but only in a limited scope in relation to 4 of the 18 questions asked.

The plaintiff initiated a common - law claim for damages under the WCRA, arising from personal injuries sustained while working as an employee of Council. The plaintiff was cleaning a retractable grandstand at the Logan Metro Sports Centre and stood on the benches which were contaminated with wet rubbish, causing her left foot to slip and causing her to " fall face down onto the row of seating below ". The plaintiff claimed she suffered a subscapularis partial tendon tear in the left shoulder. Council denied liability.

On 26 October 2015, shortly before the compulsory conference, the plaintiff made a very detailed request to Council, comprising 18 questions relating to details and documentation on, inter alia, the plaintiff's training and instruction, risk assessments, pre - start or toolbox meetings, task descriptions, the identity of the plaintiff's supervisor, who completed various post - accident forms, and prior and accepted practice.

Interestingly, the plaintiff also made allegations about inadequate equipment, in particular saying the brooms were too wide for the aisle between benches. Consequently the plaintiff requested detailed information about the make of the broom and the width of the broom used. The solicitors for Council objected to providing any of the information requested, advising in response that it was a series of fishing interrogatories.

Section 279 WCRA requires the parties to cooperate and provide copies of relevant documents and give information reasonably requested about, inter alia, the circumstances of the event resulting in injury. Judge McGill opined section 279 should be given broad interpretation to enable proper exchange of information to maximise the prospects that the real issues in the claim are resolved quickly and efficiently.

Judge McGill considerSection 279 WCRA requires the parties to cooperate and provide copies of relevant documents and give information reasonably requested about, inter alia, the circumstances of the event resulting in injury. Judge McGill opined section 279 should be given broad interpretation to enable proper exchange of information to maximise the prospects that the real issues in the claim are resolved quickly and efficiently.

In regards the remainder of the requests for information, Judge McGill opined:

  • Risk assessments – not about circumstances of injury and thus not a proper request
  • Operating manual / work procedure re task – relevant and reasonable
  • Pre-start/Toolbox meetings – unreasonably broad, too remote and speculative
  • Task descriptions – relevant and reasonable
  • Identity of supervisor – already identified, so not reasonably requested
  • Details of incident - already identified, so not reasonably requested
  • Identity of who completed incident reports - already identified, so not reasonably requested
  • Directions/instructions to plaintiff - already identified, so not reasonably requested
  • Bench was wet and slippery - already identified, so not reasonably requested (Judge McGill commented "to seek confirmation of that proposition strikes me as a complete waste of time and effort, just running up legal costs unnecessarily...")
  • Practice of other staff - relevant and reasonable
  • Confirmation that plaintiff was walking on benches - already identified, so not reasonably requested (Again Judge McGill commented "that request was manifestly unnecessary, since the Notice of Claim by the plaintiff and Mr McKee's statement assert that the plaintiff, immediately before she fell, was walking on the top of the bench. This is simply not an issue, let alone a real issue, in relation to the claim".

In respect of the request for information about the broom, Judge McGill opined that there was nothing in the claim to suggest that a broom played any part in the plaintiff's fall, and "for what it's worth, the accident report form said that at the time of the incident she was carrying a squeegee". In those circumstances, Judge McGill considered that questions about brooms were not directed to the resolution of the real issue in relation to the claim.

Accordingly Judge McGill concluded that "only one [question] was . . . information reasonably requested about the matter... though the defendant ought to answer three others in a modified form. Most of these requests however strike me as entirely unnecessary and just an exercise in running up legal costs".

Judge McGill went on to state that "I regard it as an approach to the efficient resolution of claims by injured workers which ought not to be encouraged". He further commented that the Council had been frank and forthright about disclosing its position, and nothing more useful would have been forthcoming if Council has attempted to answer the remaining questions.

The comments and decision of the District Court are a timely reminder that section 279 WCRA does not provide a means to ask for excessive information or for the same information already provided, and that each request should be considered in the context of the event, and what is reasonable.

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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