In February 2016 the Supreme Court overturned the Medical
Panel's decision in Petrogas Pty Ltd v Shane Doolan &
Ors about a worker's capacity for alternative clerical
This decision is a reminder that the Medical Panel must set out
how it arrived at its opinion in its statement of reasons. If the
Panel provides inadequate reasons for its opinion, this will often
amount to an error of law on the face of the record. It is
important to carefully examine the Panel's reasons for opinion
to ascertain what evidence its conclusions were based on, and
whether the reasons disclose a logical path of reasoning.
Mr Doolan suffered an injury to his right knee in the course of
his employment as a tanker driver with Petrogas Pty Ltd. He lodged
a compensation claim and received payments of compensation and
On 30 September 2013, the authorised agent terminated Mr
Doolan's entitlements on the grounds that he had received 130
weeks of compensation and had a current work capacity, as his
incapacity was unlikely to continue indefinitely.
The Medical Panel's opinion
Mr Doolan commenced proceedings in the Magistrates' Court
about the termination of his entitlements. The matter was later
referred to the Medical Panel, who determined that Mr Doolan had no
current work capacity, which was likely to continue
The Panel considered a Vocational Assessment report outlining
several roles Mr Doolan might be able to perform, including
clerical positions. The Panel's opinion was partly based on a
conclusion that the alternative duties identified in the report,
despite being sedentary in nature, would still involve activities
such as prolonged standing, the need to bend and squat from time to
time, and the need to move in environments that may have uneven or
slippery surfaces—despite the report itself containing no
reference to these requirements.
Supreme Court decision
Petrogas appealed the Panel's decision to the Supreme Court.
The Court found that nothing in the Vocational Assessment Report
itself supported the Panel's conclusion that the clerical roles
identified would involve standing, bending or other strenuous
actions. For example, one of the positions identified was a data
entry role involving typing and updating data, keeping records,
maintaining logs and preparing documents for transmission.
The Court also described the Panel's conclusion that the
Plaintiff did not possess the required experience or transferable
skills to gain employment in a clerical field as
"mystifying". The Panel's own reasons disclosed that
the Plaintiff was a person of at least average intelligence. He
held tertiary qualifications and had worked in a range of different
roles, including jobs as a member of the Australian Federal Police
and as an occupational health and safety officer. As such, his
educational and employment history strongly suggested that he would
be capable of duties of a clerical nature. It was "entirely
unclear how, or on the basis of what evidence, the Panel came to a
contrary conclusion". As the Panel's reasons were
"manifestly inadequate", the Court overturned the opinion
and remitted the matter back to the Panel to be reconsidered in
line with the law.
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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