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Court finds home is not a "workplace" for those who work from home

Jane Farnham worked as a Community Visitor with Queensland’s Children’s Commission. Her work was home based, and she would use her own motor vehicle to travel to and from foster homes for visits required in her work. She used her computer at home to schedule and record visits and worked from her home office. She would receive reimbursement for the costs of car travel at 75 cents per kilometre and she was paid for the time she spent on the road.

The motor vehicle accident

In May 2012, Jane was driving her car in the course of her normal work to visit a foster home when she was hit at speed by a following motor vehicle and pushed into the path of an oncoming truck.

Jane sustained whiplash injury and a psychiatric injury as a result of the motor vehicle accident, namely, injuries to her cervical spine as well as an Adjustment Disorder with anxiety and depression.

Jane brought a motor accident claim seeking compensation for her accident injuries.

The CTP insurer of the at-fault vehicle was RACQ Insurance, who admitted fault for the negligence of their driver for colliding into the rear of Jane’s vehicle and pushing it into oncoming traffic.

Claiming compensation and damages for motor accident injuries

Jane’s lawyers claimed for damages at Common Law on the basis that Jane’s case took her claim outside the restrictive provisions of the Civil Liability Act 2003 (CLA), because her case fell within section 5 of the CLA which excludes the CLA applying in certain motor accident claims.

The CTP insurer, RACQ, claimed the provisions of the CLA restricting damages that can be claimed in a motor vehicle accident did in fact apply, and the exclusion provisions in the CLA did not apply in Jane’s case.

The CLA includes provisions restricting the amount of damages that can be claimed in a motor vehicle accident. Under the CLA, there is an exclusion provision (section 5 of the CLA) which states that if the injured party is entitled to claim workers’ compensation for their injuries, and it is not a journey claim to or from your workplace, then the restrictive provisions of the CLA do not apply.

The matter initially went before the District Court in Mackay, where the Judge found that the exclusionary provision of the CLA did not apply to Jane’s case, and subsequently awarded her the lesser damages allowed under the CLA for her whiplash and psychiatric injuries.

Jane did not agree with this decision and appealed it to the Court of Appeal in the Supreme Court of Queensland where it was heard in Brisbane in October 2015. The judges who heard the matter were Margaret McMurdo P JJ and Gotterson and Morrison JJA.

The Court of Appeal decision

The Court’s decision was handed down on 12 February 2016. In giving reasons for its decision to dismiss Jane’s appeal, the Court of Appeal considered the previous cases on the issue:

The Court considered two issues. The first, whether Jane’s case fell within the journey claim provisions of the relevant workers’ compensation provisions and therefore her claim was subject to the restrictive compensation provisions of the CLA, and secondly, whether the exclusionary provision required more than the worker travelling in the course of employment at the time of the accident occurring.

What is a journey claim in a workers’ compensation case?

The Court considered the definitions of the Workers’ Compensation & Rehabilitation Act 2003 (WCRA) as to what constituted a home and what constituted a workplace. The Court held that the provisions of the WCRA indicated that the employer had to be occupying, managing or having control over any place that was to be considered a “workplace”, and this was not the case in respect to Jane’s home. 

The Court also considered the definition of “home” under the WCRA, which was “the usual place of residence” of the worker. After considering these definitions of what constituted a “home” and “workplace” under the WCRA, the Court held that when the accident occurred, Jane was travelling from her home (or usual place of residence) and was travelling to her workplace (the foster home she was visiting). Accordingly, the Court found that Jane’s car accident occurred during a journey claim under the WCRA and the exclusionary provision of the CLA did not apply.

Some argument was raised by Jane’s lawyers as to the fact that Jane was driving in the course of her work for which she was being paid at the time of her accident, which took the journey outside that of a journey claim to and from work. The Court did not accept this argument however on the basis that it did not change the interpretation of what a journey claim was under the WCRA.

After determining that it considered Jane’s case was one where she was on a journey claim when her accident occurred and she was then in fact subject to the restrictive compensation provisions of the CLA, the Court turned its attention to the contention of RACQ that whether it was a journey claim or not, the CLA would still apply in Jane’s case.

Car accident injuries sustained in the course of employment

There has been some controversy in previous case decisions as to whether, in determining whether the intention of the legislature in respect to its introduction of section 5 and its exclusion of the CLA, is that any claim where a motor accident occurs in the course of a person undertaking their work where workers’ compensation is available to the worker (save for the case of journey claims) should automatically receive the exclusion, or should it only exclude those where there is some contribution to the accident occurring by the employer.

The Court relied heavily on the more recent decision of Newberry v Suncorp Metway Insurance Limited in its determination and considered that obiter provided in that decision was correct and that the exclusion of the CLA under section 5 would only apply in cases where the employment was “a significant contributing factor” to the injury occurring. The Court agreed with the reasoning in Newberry that just being on the road whilst driving in your usual employment at the time of the accident occurring is not sufficient for the exclusion of section 5 to apply, and there must be some significant contribution from the employment to the accident occurring for the exclusion provision to apply.

The Court then awarded Jane damages under the restrictive provisions of the CLA

To read this case decision in full, click on the following link: Jane Maree Farnham v Debbie Pruden & RACQ Insurance Ltd [2016] QCA 18.

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If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident, the laws applying to your claim may not be as simple as initially thought.  To be fully informed of your rights to compensation, contact us at The Personal Injury Lawyers who may be able to assist with any claims or enquiries.

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