In Smith v WA Plantation Resources Pty Ltd  WADC
8, Mr Smith sustained a left shoulder injury at work. Liability was
accepted. Mr Smith eventually started a return to work program but
then sustained a right shoulder injury during the course of this.
Mr Smith argued the right shoulder injury was a compensable injury
in its own right but Plantation Resources argued it was a temporary
aggravation of the original left shoulder injury so its liability
to pay compensation was limited to the left shoulder injury.
The matter then proceeded to arbitration with the following
issues in play:
whether the right shoulder injury was a separate injury under
the Workers' Compensation and Injury Management Act
1981 (the Act);
the extent, if any, of Mr Smith's incapacity resulting from
that injury; and
whether right shoulder surgery, together with incidental
expenses, were 'reasonable' as defined under the Act.
Although it was held that the right shoulder injury was
compensable under the Act, the Arbitrator was of the opinion the
right shoulder injury was not a material contributing cause to Mr
Smith's incapacity as the medical evidence indicated that this
was still due to his left shoulder injury. As regards
reasonableness of treatment, the Arbitrator found that the proposed
surgery was not reasonable as it was doubtful whether it would
result in Mr Smith returning to full capacity.
Mr Smith appealed to the District Court. In considering the
appeal, Troy DCJ found the Arbitrator's analysis as to whether
the right shoulder injury resulted in total incapacity was correct
and dismissed the appeal on the first ground. As to reasonableness,
Troy DCJ found that the Arbitrator erred when only taking into
account a lack of confidence that the proposed surgery would result
in the worker returning to total capacity, and failing to take into
account the prospect of the proposed surgery improving the
worker's quality of life, which was also relevant.
The appeal was therefore allowed, the result of which was that
the worker was entitled to payment for the proposed surgery.
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The case is positive news for employers facing a compensation claim for a stress-related injury from disciplinary action.
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