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Significant cases and milestones

Workplace Injury Law

Having achieved successful outcomes for more than 70,000 clients in personal injury compensation claims as well as for over 100,000 clients in other areas of the law, the firm's WorkCover practice continues to be its chief focus and one in which it has achieved many important legal milestones.

Landmark cases for compensation for workplace injury in which the firm has acted include:

  • Australia's first award of compensation exceeding $1 million for a workplace injury. The firm acted for a quarry worker who suffered serious injuries at work as a result of an electric shock. A Supreme Court jury awarded the injured worker $1.1 million in damages, the highest ever compensation awarded and first exceeding $1 million at that time (1980);
  • The first individual to successfully obtain a medical tribunal decision on asbestosis was represented by Ryan Carlisle Thomas (1981);
  • The first successful claim for industrial hearing loss was run by our firm.

Ryan Carlisle Thomas was appointed by the High Court of England to manage claims on behalf of Australians and New Zealanders who suffered respiratory disease as a result of the harmful and dangerous working conditions in UK mines. With the firm's representation, thousands of former UK coal miners then residing in Australia and New Zealand were awarded compensation from an $11 billion compensation fund, the largest personal injury fund ever established. 

The firm continues as one of the major plaintiff law practices in the Victorian workers compensation system, representing workers in securing both statutory benefits and common law payments for workplace injury.

Employment and Discrimination

Ryan Carlisle Thomas is renowned for its representation of workers seeking to secure their workplace rights and employment entitlements. The firm has represented employees across all jurisdictions in pursuing such matters.

The firm is also well known for its representation of clients with equal opportunity and discrimination claims in and outside the workplace and has represented clients who have been discriminated against on the basis of age, race, religious belief, gender identity, sexual orientation and disability (including as a result of injury and from medical conditions).

Industrial Law

Ryan Carlisle Thomas has had a significant role in some of the major industrial disputes of labor history. These include:

  • The Mudginberri (1985) and Dollar Sweets disputes (1986);
  • High Court proceedings on behalf of the Australian Nursing Federation against the State of Victoria (1993);
  • The Australian waterfront dispute between Patrick Stevedores and the Maritime Union of Australia. In that dispute, Ryan Carlisle Thomas assisted in resolving proceedings under Section 45D of the Trade Practices Act;
  • International Harvester in which the firm successfully argued that the employment contracts of International Harvester's workers should not be terminated upon the appointment of managers and receivers to a company. The Supreme Court held that the company's receivers were to pay workers the wages they were owed;
  • Amcor v CFMEU. Instructed by the Pulp and Paper Workers Branch of the CFMEU, Ryan Carlisle Thomas fought for the rights of workers all the way to the High Court of Australia. Here, it was succesfully argued that workers should be entitled to retrenchment or redundancy payments on the demerging of a corporation (2005);
  • Building Workers' Industrial Union v Odco Pty Ltd (the "Troubleshooters labour hire" case) (1988).

The firm has represented many unions and/or their members including:

Ryan Carlisle Thomas also assists members of the United Workers Union (formerly the National Union of Workers) with workplace injury and other legal matters and has an active practice associated with the racing industry, acting for both trainers and the Australian Jockey's Association. As part of that practice, the firm has conducted litigation on behalf of racehorse owners, including the "Sound Action" proceedings.

Ryan Carlisle Thomas has represented its union clients in a wide variety of industrial matters. The range of issues are illustrated by the following:

High Court

  • Union rules cases
  • Challenges to Federal Award regulation
  • Interpretation of industrial legislation
  • Redundancy Entitlements
  • Union Registration

Federal Court

  • Award/Agreement Breach Proceedings
  • Union Disamalgamation applications
  • Prerogative relief on remittal from High Court
  • Section 45 Trade Practices Act Proceedings
  • Workplace Relations Act breaches
  • HREOC Sex Discrimination

Over many years Ryan Carlisle Thomas has acted in proceedings involving demarcation disputes between unions and in disputes within unions.

The firm acted for the then Royal Australian Nursing Federation in the long running proceedings directed to securing federal awards for nurses. These proceedings commenced in 1983 and continued in various forms for over a decade and involved the making of federal awards in all States, including Victoria at the time of the Kennett Government.

In a more recent major dispute between the Victorian Government and the Victorian branch of the Australian Nursing Federation (now Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation), Ryan Carlisle Thomas acted as the union's legal advisers. Following a long industrial campaign and numerous proceedings, the 2012 dispute was resolved when the state government and employers agreed to union claims over wages and the maintenance of nurse-patient ratios.

For many years as part of its industrial law practice, the firm acted for major industry superannuation funds including the Labour Union Co-operative Retirement Fund (LUCRF) and FinSuper and acted in a significant dispute involving an industry fund and the regulator (Host-Plus v AHA).

Fair Work Commission

Ryan Carlisle Thomas has acted in the full range of issues arising under the Fair Work Act 2009, the Workplace Relations Act 1996 and predecessor Acts, including:

  • Union registration and rules alteration cases;
  • Awards and Agreement making and certification;
  • Industrial disputes;
  • Matters involving industrial action and employer application to prevent such action;
  • Notices of initiation of bargaining period and industrial action;
  • Appeals on issues of jurisdiction and merit;
  • Unfair dismissals

Sexual and Institutional Abuse

Ryan Carlisle Thomas has been a pioneer in representing victims of sexual and institutional abuse and is an advocate for the rights of those abused whilst children in care. Since 1989, the firm has assisted over 3,000 clients from across Australia secure justice and compensation for abuse they have suffered, developing what is now one of the largest practices in this area in Australia.

Claims of sexual and institutional abuse have been notoriously difficult to prosecute. RCT was the first law firm to devise and negotiate a Protocol with the State of Victoria for the out-of-court settlement of claims for compensation. This Protocol helped claimants pursue compensation and statements of apology, which could otherwise be strenuously resisted in the courts. The Protocol was adopted by all State Government departments and the Uniting and Anglican Churches, as well as the Salvation Army.

Lump sum payments have also been secured under the various Redress Schemes operating in Western Australia, Queensland, Tasmania, and overseas in Ireland. The firm lobbied hard along with other advocacy groups to establish the landmark Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2013.

The firm's clients also include child migrants or home children who were illegally and forcibly sent from the United Kingdom and Malta to Australia post-World War II and often raised in orphanages and care; and members of the Stolen Generations of Australian aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands people who were removed from their families by Australian and State Governments between 1909 and 1969. The firm provides pro bono support to the Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN), an advocacy and support group for people who grew up in the care of orphanages, children's homes and foster care.

Transport Accident Compensation (TAC)

The firm's practice in transport accident compensation law features a number of notable cases including Linsley v Petrie (1998). In this case, the firm argued successfully in the Court of Appeal that a driver who had suffered personal injury as a result of a collision should not be estopped (i.e. precluded) from bringing proceedings for compensation for that injury because litigation with respect to the property damage caused by the accident had already been dealt with by the Magistrates Court, and found to be "an inevitable accident".

Crimes Compensation

Ryan Carlisle Thomas has one of the largest practices in this arena in Victoria and regularly represents victims of crime in applications for assistance to the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT). It has also represented many clients in review applications to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal in cases where the victim has not received as much assistance as they should under the scheme.

In Pham v Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal [2016], the firm argued successfully in the Court of Appeal that the cap on assistance for loss of earnings under the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 applies after any deductions for compensation received from other sources are made. The judgment means that victims of crime in Victoria who have received compensation for loss of earnings from other sources are up to $20,000 better off under the Act.

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