Australia: The importance of taking critical incidents seriously – Carer awarded $454K in damages for client assault

Last Updated: 2 September 2016
Article by Chris Murphy

Greenway v The Corporation of the Synod of the Diocese of Brisbane [2016] QDC 195

Key Points

  • Courts will take a common sense and realistic approach as to an employer's duty to prevent incidents by carers by their clients.
  • However, once an incident occurs, courts will take a stringent approach as to what an employer is required to do in response.
  • In claims for psychological injuries, courts are largely bound by the expert psychiatric evidence before them.
  • Background

The Plaintiff was a carer employed by Anglicare who was looking after a 15 year old boy assessed as having complex support needs. The boy had a propensity for threatening behaviour and violence, having previously assaulted a female youth worker and stealing the staff car.

On 25 August 2013 the boy became verbally abusive and physically aggressive towards the Plaintiff culminating in threats to kill himself, breaking a window, picking up a large shard of glass and making threats.

The Plaintiff's supervisor was aware of the incident after initially being called by the boy himself when it started occurring and secondly when the Plaintiff called to advise what occurred. Although exactly what was said in the second conversation was disputed, it was common ground that the Plaintiff said she was okay and the supervisor did not offer to relieve her leaving the Plaintiff alone with assailant throughout the rest of the shift. The Plaintiff went on to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The Decision

The Plaintiff claimed Anglicare breached its duty for failing to prevent the incident and failing to adequately respond to the telephone calls.

In a common sense assessment of the issues relating to the prevention of the incident, the judge's key findings were:

  • Given the assailant was the very type of person described for placement with a single carer in the service agreement between Anglicare and the Department, it was not feasible for Anglicare to refuse the placement.
  • Likewise, the service agreement would also have made it impractical to provide a second carer because it would have needed to be done at Anglicare's expense. In any event, although the assailant had been in some concerning previous incidents, he was appropriately classified as having complex needs.
  • Finally, the Plaintiff's training (which appeared to be relatively standard), was assessed as appropriate.
  • The more contentious issue was what the supervisor should have done after receiving the telephone calls. With respect to the first call, the judge found it was reasonable for the supervisor to wait before responding as the Plaintiff was trained and appeared to be handling the situation appropriately.

Anglicare argued that given that in the second call the Plaintiff said she was okay it was a reasonable response for the Plaintiff to do nothing. However, Anglicare's argument was rejected on the basis of disputed evidence from the Plaintiff that she had also discussed whether the police should be called, that the supervisor statement that she had effectively de-escalated the situation would have discouraged her from seeking assistance, and that the incident itself was sufficiently serious to require the supervisor to make further enquiries regardless of what the Plaintiff said.

Anglicare was therefore found liable for not establishing guidelines as to how team leaders should support workers caring alone for people with complex support needs and how a supervisor should assess a worker's welfare in the aftermath of a critical incident.

In what was at first blush a surprising finding, the judge rejected Anglicare's request for her to draw an inference that the injuries would have occurred even if the supervisor had visited on the night as speculative. A Defendant may well argue that it is the Plaintiff that bears the onus of proof and that the opposite inference was also speculative. However in this case Anglicare's own expert (Dr Chalk) agreed that it was not inevitable the Plaintiff would have been so overwhelmed by the incident itself that she would have developed PTSD. Further, that staying in the house with the young person overnight would have added an additional level of anxiety that "would be seen as a contributing factor" to the injury.

Given the Plaintiff was assessed with a 19 to 21% permanent impairment, and there was no clear evidence as to when she could return to work, it followed that the Plaintiff received a significant award of $454,000. This was inclusive of $292,000 for future economic loss based on the assumption the Plaintiff would not work for 5 years and after that would have a disadvantage on the labour market. Having said that, it appears there was a distinct lack of evidence about what outside relatively lowly paid employment as a carer the Plaintiff could have done.


Companies employing people to care for others at their residences face complex responsibilities. It is certainly helpful to receive the court's approval regarding classification, staffing and training levels which appeared to be relatively industry standard. However, the case does underline the fact that employers do need to have strong systems in place regarding what to do after there is an incident. More generally, it appears any previous reluctance courts may have shown to be less generous in claims for psychological injury is well and truly on the wane.

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.

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.

Chris Murphy
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”

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.