Workers Compensation Involving Motor Vehicle Compensation
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Case Study: Spratt v Perilya Broken Hill Ltd; Spratt v Rowe  NSWCA 192
This case was recently decided in the NSW Court of Appeal. This means that the case was previously heard in a lower court, but one of the parties appealed the decision and it was opened for reconsideration by the court.
The facts of the case
This case dates back to 11 October 2011. A worker named Mr Spratt was injured during working hours when a motor vehicle driven by another worker collided with him. He sustained an injury to his cervical spine. The fact that the injury occurred at work and also involved a motor vehicle meant that the worker could claim under the Workers Compensation Act 1987and the Motor Accidents Compensation Act 1999.
Initially, Mr Spratt made a lump sum compensation claim under section 66 of the Workers Compensation Act 1987. This section entitles workers who have had permanent impairment to claim compensation. In May 2015, the Workers Compensation Commission found that he was entitled due to the injury that occurred during the course of employment.
Mr Spratt also made a claim against the driver for the same injury under the Motor Accidents Compensation Act 1999. However, when the Medical Assessor, Dr Schutz assessed his case, he found that Mr Spratt’s whole person impairment was less than 10%. Under section 131 of the Motor Vehicles Compensation Act 1999, the level of whole person impairment must be greater than 10% in order to entitle the injured person to claim non-economic loss damages.
Following this assessment, Mr Spratt made an application with the MAS Proper Officer to review the Medical Assessors decisions. This application was made under section 63 of the Motor Vehicles Compensation Act 1999, which allows such reviews. The basis of this review was that Mr Schutz was stopped from making this decision as he was bound by the decision made in the initial claims under the Workers Compensation Act 1987. This application was rejected.
Next, Mr Spratt made an application to the District Court to review. This application was made under section 62(1)(b) of the Motor Vehicles Compensation Act 1999 and attempted to refer the matter back to Dr Schutz for re- assessment. The basis of this application was that Dr Schutz was bound by the causation of Mr Spratt’s injury that was initially found by the Worker’s Compensation Commission. This application was also declined.
At this stage, the worker lodged an appeal to the Court of Appeal. This appeal was heard on 27 July 2016 by Justice McColl, Justice Gleeson and Justice Leeming. This appeal was based on the fact that the Proper Officer and District Court erroneously refused the review applications because the decision of the Commission resulted in an issue estoppel. The concept of issue estoppel states that an issue that has already been heard and had a judgment made on it cannot be brought up again in later proceedings. If issue estoppel was accepted, it would mean that this issue estoppel would bind the Medical Assessors decision to that made by the Worker’s Compensation Commission and hence Mr Spratt would be entitled under the Motor Accident Compensation Act 1999.
This case was dismissed with costs. Put simply, this means that Mr Spratt’s case was rejected and he was ordered to pay the costs for the defendant.
The Court of Appeal found that the Workers Compensation Commission’s decision that the injury occurred in the course of employment did not create an issue estoppel on any proceedings brought under either the Motor Accident Compensation Act 1999 or the District Court.
The Court of Appeal held that Mr Spratt’s case fell down for the following reasons.
Firstly, it was found that the Workers Compensation Commission’s decision that the injury occurred in the course of employment did not create an issue estoppel on any proceedings brought under either the Motor Accident Compensation Act 1999 or the District Court.
Secondly, issue estoppel did not arise because the Motor Accident Compensation Act 1999 claim was made against the drive of the vehicle. While the Workers Compensation Act 1987 claim was made against the driver and the employer. The employer was vicariously liable for the driver’s act. The court found that since the driver could not be held privy to the employer’s actions, then the claim under the Motor Accident Compensation Act 1999 could not be bound by issue estoppel to the initial claim.
Finally, even supposing that issue estoppel did arise, it would not bind the Medical Assessor. This is due to Part 3.4 of the Motor Accident Compensation Act 1999 that clarifies that priority is to be given to decisions made by the Medical Assessor.
What this means for your case
This case found that MAS assessors are not bound by decisions made under the Workers Compensation Commission. This means that MAS assessors are not bound by determinations of the Worker’s Compensation Commission and therefore can make decisions that contradict the Commission. This is important for your case as it reiterates the fact that you may claim under both Acts for an injury that occurred at work and involved a motor vehicle. If your claim is rejected under the Workers Compensation Act, it may still be accepted under the Motor Accident Compensation Act 1999 and vice versa. This gives us two potential claims that can be prepared for your case, hence doubling your chance of a positive outcome.