The Facts

Injured worker drives truck with defective seat and develops back pain

A man worked as a truck driver from September 2011 until May 2014.

Periodically, he was assigned a truck with a defective seat. He drove this truck for six weeks in 2013 and again from early 2014 until 19 May 2014.

On that day, he informed his shift supervisor that his back was sore and they agreed that from the following shift he would drive a different truck with a fully functioning seat.

He consulted a GP on 29 May 2014, who noted that he had a ten day history of back spasms and also that the seat on the truck was broken.

On 30 May 2014, the GP certified the truck driver for a period of three and a half weeks off work.

Injured worker switches trucks, but becomes permanently incapacitated after sneezing

After returning to work, the truck driver resumed driving, but in a truck with a fully functioning seat.

However, over the next few months, his back was quite sore after finishing his shifts.

On 22 December 2014 while getting ready for work, he was sitting on a couch putting on his socks, when he sneezed and felt the "most horrendous pain" across his lower back and down his left leg.

He nevertheless went to work that day, but that night could not put any weight on his left leg. He contacted his supervisor who sent him to hospital.

The truck driver was ultimately diagnosed with a spinal disc protrusion, or herniation. He was found to be permanently incapacitated and has not worked since.

He was just 32 years old at the time.

Injured worker sues employer for negligence

The truck driver sued his employer for negligence.

The employer admitted it owed a duty of care and that the seat in the driver's truck was defective, meaning it had breached that duty.

However, the employer denied causation, saying the defective seat was not the cause of the truck driver's injury.

case a - The case for the injured worker

case b - The case for the employer

  • My employer has admitted that it was negligent in providing me with a truck with a defective seat. Had the seat been safe, I would not have been injured.
  • The defective seat did not slide all the way forward as it was supposed to. I had to let the air out of the air suspension mechanism, to assist me to reach the clutch pedal. Due to the loss of the seat's air suspension, I could feel every pothole and bump in the road. Also, because the seat was too far back, I had to lean forward, in an exaggerated position, to control the steering wheel.
  • An engineer specialising in occupational health and safety has provided evidence that truck drivers are at risk of spinal damage due to a combination of prolonged sitting and sitting posture, vibration and shock loading. He also said that as I could not use the air suspension of the seat, I was exposed to higher forces being transferred to my body than if the air suspension could be used while driving the truck.
  • A spinal surgeon has also given evidence that the disc herniation I suffered was attributable to driving on rough terrain with a broken seat, even though I may have already had some degeneration to my disc.
  • Since I would not have been injured if the seat had been safe, the employer is liable for damages.
  • We have admitted that the seat was defective. However, this defect was not the cause the worker's injury.
  • Contrary to what the worker's engineer has said, our expert occupational physician has shown that there is no statistically significant association between heavy physical work such as strenuous movements, awkward occupational postures, repetition, bending and twisting and the onset of back pain.
  • In any event, any back pain the worker might have experienced after driving with the defective seat caused no more particular harm than a transient and short-term onset of episodic back pain. The worker even admitted that in December 2014 he told a friend how good his back was and that he had ridden his dirt bike once or twice in the period from May to December 2014.
  • The actual cause of the worker's injury was pre-existing symptomatic degenerative disease in his lumbar spine. This is evidenced by episodes in 2003, 2006 and 2011, when he consulted doctors for back pain following various incidences of lifting heavy things. Of significance, he had restricted movement for up to ten days at a time, predating having ever driven the truck with the defective seat.
  • Since the seat defect was not the cause of the worker's injury, we are not liable for damages and the worker's case must be dismissed.

So, which case won?

Cast your judgment below to find out

Phil Griffin
Workers compensation
Stacks Law Firm

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.