Published: 14 January 2015
Author: Ryan Carlisle Thomas with research assistance from Kate Stowell
How you fill in a WorkCover claim form can be critical
Robinson v SPI Electricity Pty Ltd
Problems arising from the decision in the Magistrates' Court in Robinson v SPI Electricity Pty Ltd continue to frustrate injured workers due to a onerous and strict requirement to correctly and fully fill out a claim form properly.
As a result of this decision injured workers are required to meticulously complete a claim form when they are injured detailing exactly how an injury has been suffered. For example, where someone injures themselves on a particular date at work, if they have also suffered injury to the same body part due to the nature of their work leading up to that date they must detail that in their claim form, otherwise they will be precluded from claiming anything other than the one date of injury.
WorkCovers lawyers are employing this onerous requirement regularly to try and limit a worker’s claim.
This case centred on a claim made by a man whose job had been checking gas meters. It was work which often required him to climb over gates and fences to gain access to the metres, and to engage in bending in order to read them. Robinson told doctors that he had suffered from increasing stiffness and soreness over a period of some ten years during which time he was employed by the electrical firm.
One day in February 2011, the employee was doing his job when he became aware of a growing pain in his lower back. The pain became so intense that he could not continue his shift. Shortly thereafter, Robinson completed and lodged a WorkCover injury claim form specifying that he has acquired the injury on that specific day in February.
What WorkCover did
The claim was initially rejected because Robinson’s employer maintained that their employee had sustained the injury while playing with his children and not during the course of his work.
When the dispute eventually went to a hearing in September 2012, lawyers representing WorkCover argued that the Magistrate could not make a decision in the man’s favour based on an injured acquired over many years, because Robinson had specified in his injury claim form that the injury had occurred on a specific date in February.
Magistrate Garnett found in favour of WorkCover (and the employer’s) argument that he could not make a decision on the basis of the injury having occurred during the course of the man’s employment, and only on the basis specified in the man’s claim form, on a particular day in February.
As it turns out, Magistrate Garnett did find that the man had injured his back on the day recorded in his claim form, but the decision could easily have gone the other way with the result that Robinson could have lost his entitlement to compensation, or have had it reduced.
What it means for you
Getting the paperwork right can be critical to an injured employee’s claim to compensation. Red tape counts.
It is important to describe exactly how your injury occurred and over what period of time. Sometimes this is very difficult as you may not know how the injury came about, it maybe only after a doctors appointment or a medical scan that you realise that what happened at work one day was actually just the 'straw that broke the camels back'.
WorkCover is not particularly helpful in his regard because their claim form requires you to enter a time and date at which the injury was sustained, which it is impossible to determine if you have acquired an injury gradually over a period of time. Under these circumstances, it is helpful to write “over the course of my employment”.
The case illustrates how important it is to get the paperwork right. It is therefore useful to have your health & safety or union rep look over your report. If not, you should ask a law firm to do so for you. If often won’t cost you anything. But not doing so can cost you dearly.