Brisbane worker wins right to workers' compensation for imprisonment in US
An airline steward who suffered psychiatric injury as a result of being arrested and imprisoned in Orange County Jail in Los Angeles upon charges that were later found to be unsubstantiated, has won his case to claim workers' compensation for his injury.
Colin Harvey resided in Brisbane and worked as an airline steward with Qantas. In May 2013, Colin was, in the course of his work with Qantas, on a lay over in Los Angeles with other members of his crew on a flight out of Brisbane to LAX (flight QF 16 Boeing 747-400ER). All the flight crew were staying at the Hilton Costa Mesa for the two day layover in LA.
Good samaritan charged with indecent assault
Colin gave evidence at the hearing before the Industrial Court, that on the first evening of the lay over, he had been socialising with his co-workers at the hotel, when in the early hours of the morning he decided to return to his allocated hotel room and go to bed. As he was heading toward his room, Colin testified that he came across a female colleague who appeared in a state of collapse.
Colin gave evidence that he tried to assist the woman by going to the front desk at the hotel in an attempt to find her room key, as she had no room key on her person, however the hotel reception would not assist him. Following this, and being unable to further help the woman, Colin said that he returned to his room and went to bed.
Some hours later, Colin was woken by two State Troopers who advised him that the woman he had come across earlier that morning had run to the Hotel reception and claimed Colin had indecently assaulted her. Colin was arrested on a charge of indecent assault, handcuffed, marched out of the hotel, officially charged and jailed.
The next morning, Colin was transferred to Orange County Jail where he was “processed”, which included a basic medical check, and was then placed in a holding cell with 20 to 30 prisoners. After being fingerprinted and questioned, Colin was dressed in prison garb and placed in solitary confinement. Colin testified that he found the whole process very intimidating and he had real concerns for his safety.
Because it was a public holiday in LA with the Memorial Weekend celebrations, Colin was told that his court appearance would most likely not take place for 5 days, during which time he would continue in jail. Fortunately, the charges were dropped by the third day, and Colin was released unconditionally and free to return home to Brisbane.
On arriving back in Brisbane a few days later, Colin attended his doctor for treatment of depression and anxiety arising out of his ordeal in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, on his return to Brisbane, Colin found that he had been stood down on full pay whilst Qantas itself investigated the allegations the subject of his imprisonment in Los Angeles, which were later found by Qantas to be unsubstantiated.
Within a year and a half of the event, Colin suffered a mental breakdown and was diagnosed by Psychiatrist, Dr Doug Andrews, as suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Major Depression as a result of his arrest and imprisonment in the United States.
Workers' compensation claim for Post Traumatic Stress and Major Depressive disorders rejected
Colin applied for workers’ compensation via Qantas’ self-insurance division, but his claim was rejected on grounds that the event in Los Angeles was not work related. Under workers’ compensation legislation in Queensland, where a claim is made for pure psychiatric injury in a workplace injury claim, the requirement for a significant relationship between the cause of the injury and the work is much higher than that for a physical injury. In cases of pure psychiatric injury, “work” must be “the major contributing factor” to the injury occurring, and not just “a significant contributing factor”, as is required in cases of physical injury.
Colin’s case ended up before the Queensland Industrial Relations Court (QIRC) and was heard by President Glen Martin. President Martin determined that Qantas’ rejection of Colin’s workers’ compensation claim was invalid. He determined that the reason Colin was staying in the hotel when the incident occurred, and in Los Angeles at all was because he was required to be there for his work. The hotel room had been organised by Qantas for Colin to stay there for the two day lay over in Los Angeles, which was all part of his work duties.
Court finds worker entitled to claim workers' compensation as hotel stay and lay over was in course of employment
President Martin found that the fact Qantas required Colin to be there in the hotel and he was “at the time his injury was first suffered, using the room for the purpose intended by the employer, namely, to rest or sleep before the return flight”, provided the requisite connection between employment and injury. He considered that the connection was sufficient to meet the criteria of “a major contributing factor” to the psychiatric injury occurring.
In making his determination, President Martin also noted that the fact Qantas had stood Colin down and were undertaking their own internal investigations into the matter, indicated that it considered the incident was work related. Colin was found eligible to claim workers’ compensation for the psychiatric injury he had developed due to his imprisonment whilst on lay over in LA.
Read the full decision and case: Harvey v Simon Blackwood (Workers’ Compensation Regulator) & Anor  ICQ 014 Martin J, President 18 July 2016.
You may also be interested in a similar decision which was handed down in February 2016 by President Martin. In this case, a mining worker who had been assaulted in his room at the mining camp by co-workers who had been drinking with him earlier in the night, was granted workers' compensation entitlements for injuries sustained in the assault. Again, President Martin found that the fact the worker was only in the mining camp and in his allocated room at the camp was because it was required of him in his work at the mine, and this was a sufficient connection between the assault and his work.
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