Day: July 27, 2022

A Category of Forgotten Worker/Road User

 

This is an extremely distressing topic for us to raise, but we feel that not having the debate is to sit back and perpetuate a failure of the law and insurance for a category of hard-working, everyday people.

It is a topic that involves the tragedy of suicide, so if this causes distress please take care in reading on and seek help where required – it is not our intention to cause upset.

Our community has become very good at suicide prevention at the outset, with excellent local medical and allied practitioners working over-time to assist struggling people. However, where a situation arises in the course of someone’s employment on our Victorian roads, the law in our view fails workers and creates an abyss for them.

Our clients have been exposed to the very tragic circumstance of pedestrian suicide by truck. There is no doubt the struggling person did not intend to cause harm, and our clients have been ‘blameless’ in an unavoidable situation while driving heavy vehicles. There is devastation which impacts the whole community. A life is lost, families are shattered and a worker effectively loses their life too. So, legally what happens next?

The injured worker/driver will suffer severe nervous shock injury. They will be entitled to receive limited ‘no-fault’ compensation benefits under the WorkCover scheme. More often than not, their psychiatric injury is assessed under an almost unattainable threshold of 30% to qualify for an impairment benefit lump sum. It is difficult to envisage much worse that a person could be exposed to, yet these assessments fail them.

The injured worker/driver will most likely satisfy the “serious injury” threshold in the TAC legislation and will make out the elements of a common law claim for damages – but where do they go? The employer has often done nothing wrong; the TAC are only liable to indemnify a party for negligent acts arising out of the driving or use of a motor vehicle. The pedestrian’s estate will often be insufficient (and our clients do not wish to go down that path in any event), and rarely will a pedestrian be covered under the public liability component of a home and contents insurance policy (noting: (a) there may be none; and (b) there are exclusion clauses in such policies – similar to problems we are seeing with the E-Scooter cases).

The blameless injured worker/driver is then left with ‘hollow’ rights and falls into financial ruin if they are unable to return to work. This is the aftermath the law has failed to deal with.

We are calling for consideration of some form of extension of limited indemnity from the TAC as a nominal Defendant against which the blameless worker could claim some damages in this very strict and limited category of case involving a pedestrian and a driver of a heavy vehicle in the course of their employment when confronted with this known, but under-reported, ‘occupational hazard’. We are not suggesting comprehensive coverage for all incidents involving motorists and pedestrians – that would be an impossible burden for the very well-run TAC scheme. However, the reality is that in this situation there is “double insurance” (both WorkCover and TAC premiums being paid) with no benefit for the worker.

This is one potential solution; it may not be the ultimate solution, but we hope to trigger a debate. To remain silent on this issue is to fail these workers/road users. If you believe in the rights of Victorian workers and road users, please join us and speak up for them – we have to at least try something. Call us crazy, but the public feedback has been enormous.

This is a legally and emotionally complex issue. However, we are of the view that this is precisely what the law needs to deal with – it is no excuse for the law to be missing in action. If the law is not working for our people, it is not working properly in this space.

 

If you or anyone you know needs help call:
Lifeline on 13 11 14
Griefline on 1300 845 745
Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636
Headspace on 1800 650 890
Mensline Australia on 1300 789 978
Care Leavers Australasian Network (CLAN) on 1800 008 774
Head to Health at headtohealth.gov.au