Half a million compo after chair fall

Business breached duty of care

By Pia Akerman.

A business that provided an employee with a wheeled office chair on a tiled floor breached its duty of care by failing to place a mat under the chair, a judge has ruled.

The South Australian District Court has awarded more than $500,000 to the employee, Gillian Herd, after she fell off the chair and hit her elbow, an injury that would trigger years of pain.

Ms Herd was doing administrative work for Joe’s Poultry in Adelaide, in November 2000, when she bent over from her chair to pick up some papers that had been blown to the floor.

The chair had shifted when she attempted to sit back down, and Ms Herd fell to the floor, striking her right elbow on the front edge of a desk behind her.

"Because of the combination of castors on the chair and the hard floor surface, it took little force to move the chair,” judge Brendan Burley said. "That combination of castors and a hard floor constituted the negligence of the defendant.

"The defendant breached the duty of care it owed to the plaintiff by requiring her to work in an office seated on a chair supported by castors on a hard floor.” Judge Burley said the risk of a fall "could easily have been avoided” by placing a square of carpet on the floor under the chair.

Simon Hanus, representing Chevalier Pty Ltd, which ran Joe’s Poultry, had argued that Ms Herd must have been aware the chair could move because she had worked in the office for about three months before the accident, and therefore should have taken care when sitting down.

But Judge Burley said Ms Herd’s failure to notice the chair had moved “at best” was a misjudgment, and was not contributory negligence on her part.

Ms Herd, 49, told the court she has suffered intense pain in her right arm ever since the accident, and that the injury worsened after surgery.

She said she now had very limited use of her right arm, though she can still write as she is left-handed. Ms Herd returned to her job four weeks after the accident, but only for four hours a day while receiving full pay from worker’s compensation.

She left the business in February 2001, and has remained on worker’s compensation without making attempts to gain paid employment.

"Whilst the condition of her right arm is far from the worst of injuries that might be sustained, it has been and will continue to be a significant injury markedly affecting her enjoyment of the amenities of life,” Judge Burley said. He awarded $544,871.30 to Ms Herd.

A doctor’s report tendered by Mr Hanus to the court stated that Ms Herd was physically able to work full-time, though another doctor said she had a "fairly low” prospect of improving.

The Australian.

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