Category: Changes to the Law

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

 

What does it mean if the TAC advise me I’m eligible for common law compensation?

If you have received a letter from the TAC notifying you of your eligibility to apply for common law compensation, the TAC has done what is known as proactively granting you a serious injury certificate.

One of the functions of the TAC is to pay compensation to people injured in transport accidents, whether they’re the driver of a vehicle, or someone injured by another driver including pedestrians and cyclists. To be eligible for common law compensation you need to satisfy a threshold level of injury (serious injury) and prove that someone else was at fault in causing your accident.

Previously, you would have to apply for a serious injury certificate which can be a long and complex process and almost always requires legal assistance.  Recent changes have led the TAC to proactively review files of some injured people before such application is formally made and, where the TAC is satisfied that you meet the serious injury threshold and your injury was caused by someone else, the TAC grant the serious injury certificate without the need for application.

Included with the letter advising you of your eligibility to receive compensation is a serious injury certificate, meaning you are now able to bring a claim for common law compensation which may include compensation for pain and suffering, loss of earnings and loss of earning capacity. The assessment of compensation can be a complicated process and requires expert legal insight.   Claims for pain and suffering damages cannot exceed the statutory maximum figure which is currently $577,280.  Claims for economic loss cannot exceed the statutory maximum figure of $1,298,980.

Typically, a claim for common law damages will not finalise your right to ongoing support from the TAC to medical and like expenses and as such, these benefits do not comprise part of a common law claim.

What should I do now that I have been notified by the TAC that I have a serious injury and that I am eligible for common law compensation?

As advised in the TAC’s letter, you should now engage a personal injury lawyer to negotiate with the TAC.

At Fortitude Legal our award-winning team are accredited specialists in personal injury law with a focus on obtaining compensation for people injured in transport accidents, like you.  It is not a given that the TAC will pay you your maximum entitlement.  What you are paid depends upon the material presented to them to outline the nature and extent of your injuries and loss.  That’s where our team at Fortitude Legal will work with you to ensure you get your maximum entitlement to compensation in the quickest time.

At Fortitude Legal we operate within the TAC Common Law Protocols.  The Protocols are an agreement that outlines how the TAC and our lawyers work together during the negotiation of your claim and they more often than not, ensure a swift resolution of your claim for compensation without the need to go to Court, thus getting the compensation in your hands sooner.

Even though the compensation payable by the TAC in a damages claim is often very substantial, it does not mean that the costs payable by you from your compensation will be.  It some instances no costs whatsoever will be payable by you from the agreed sum awarded by the TAC for compensation if you engage Fortitude Legal.  Not all law firms in this area will be willing to look after you in this way.

Call us for a free no obligation chat on 1300 020 618.

At Fortitude Legal – We’re In Your Corner!

 

 

As a cyclist, you may have entitlements under the transport accident scheme if you were injured as a result of a collision that was directly caused by the driving of a vehicle (including cars, buses, motorcycles, trains and trams).

It is important to note however that you may be covered as a cyclist in a number of additional scenarios including:

NEAR MISS – if the driving of a vehicle directly caused a need for you to take evasive action to avoid a collision and you ultimately suffer injury;
CAR-DOORING – an incident involving a collision between you as a cyclist and an open or opening door of a vehicle;
TRAVELLING TO OR FROM WORK – an incident involving a collision between you as a cyclist and a motor vehicle while you were travelling to or from your place of employment (the vehicle can be a parked or stationary vehicle);
COLLISION WITH A STATIONARY VEHICLE – an accident involving you as a cyclist and a stationary vehicle for accidents on or after 9 July 2014.

Furthermore, following ‘test case’ litigation in which Fortitude Legal’s Tom Burgoyne acted for the injured cyclist, the law with regard to collisions with stationary vehicles has changed for the better for cyclists across Victoria.

On 7 June 2018 a Bill was introduced into Victoria’s Parliament https://www.premier.vic.gov.au/cyclists-and-all-victorians-to-benefit-from-tac-changes/ to amend the transport accident legislation such that a collision between a cyclist and a parked or stationary vehicle will constitute a “transport accident” and not be confined to a situation where a cyclist is riding to or from work. After passing both Houses of Victoria’s Parliament on 20 September 2018, the Bill received Royal Assent on 25 September 2018 such that changes commenced on 26 September 2018.  The amendment has retrospective effect to 9 July 2014 and any cyclists injured in collisions with parked or stationary vehicles from that date will also be covered. This is referred to as “Rory’s Law”.

As a cyclist, you may be interested to read Tom’s article professionally published in the Law Institute Journal which called for a change to the law after Tom ran Rory’s test case https://www.liv.asn.au/Staying-Informed/LIJ/LIJ/Jan-Feb-2018/Cyclists-beware

The scheme surrounding transport accidents and your entitlements is complex and there are strict time limits that apply.  It is important that you get appropriate legal advice from the outset to ensure that your rights are protected.

We can help you navigate the scheme, maximise your entitlements and make the decisions that are right for your future.

If you have a query, please do not hesitate to contact our expert Transport Accident Team for a no obligation chat..

There is little doubt that our emergency service workers go above and beyond when carrying out their duties to assist, care for and protect individuals and the community when something goes wrong. It stands to reason that the psychological stress and pressure our front line workers can experience in the performance of their duties is significant.

It is therefore a very important step forward in tackling the mental health concerns of our emergency service workers that the Victorian Government has announced the introduction of a 12 month pilot program to enable these workers to access mental health treatment before a WorkCover claim has been accepted.

The introduction of this pilot will go some way to ensuring that these workers are supported and their mental health needs identified and treated from an early stage. Under the current Victorian WorkCover system, it can take many weeks before a WorkCover claim is accepted for a worker to access the treatment they need and even months when the claim has been rejected.

As WorkCover lawyers we see first hand how workers suffering from a mental health injury can experience more stress and even a worsening of their condition when they are not able to access the medical treatment they need at an early stage of their illness. Further, the stress and worry that can come from being out of pocket for treatment costs is likely to be eliminated for many workers with the introduction of this pilot program and may encourage emergency service workers to seek treatment early on which can only be a good thing.

Stage 1 of the pilot program will commence on 17 June 2019 where Victoria Police and Ambulance Victoria Staff and volunteers experiencing a mental health injury will have access to reasonable medical expenses for treatment including GP visits, medication, psychological counselling and psychiatrist appointments.  From 1 July 2019 access will also be opened up to CFA and SES staff and volunteers, public sector nurses, child protection workers, corrections and youth justice workers.

The pilot program is likely to extend to current and former emergency service workers and volunteers. Further, where a WorkCover claim is rejected, emergency service workers will still be able to access reasonable medical expenses for a period of 13 weeks from the date the claim is lodged which is a positive initiative. It is hoped that once the 12 month pilot program concludes, access to payment of reasonable medical expenses will be expanded to all workers injured in Victoria experiencing a mental health injury.

There is still much more to be done in this space to ensure that our emergency service workers are protected, supported and cared for when they experience a mental health injury, but the pilot program is a move in the right direction.

Fleur Jackson

Director and Principal Lawyer

FORTITUDE LEGAL

The Treasury and Finance Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 passed the upper house of Victorian Parliament on 20 September 2018. Yesterday this Bill received Royal Assent becoming law today.

Although the Act has been dubbed Rory’s Law as our client, Rory Wilson, is the centerpiece of it, there are also further beneficial amendments for those who suffer injury in transport accidents as well as for their family members. The full title of the Act really does not do justice to the significance of it!  Here is a summary:

Cyclists:

The anomaly in the legislation has been rectified to ensure that cyclists will now be covered where they strike a stationary vehicle, improved from the previous position where they were only covered where they struck the door of a stationary vehicle, or if they were riding to or from work.

Immediate Family Members:

The definition of “member of the immediate family” will be extended to include Grandparents, allowing them to access financial assistance for family counselling, travel and accommodation expenses to be used where family members are severely or fatally injured in a transport accident. The monetary cap for immediate family members’ travel and accommodation expenses to visit a family member in hospital is set to be increased from $10,780 to $20,000. This extension and monetary increase will be mirrored in WorkCover law.

A further benefit of income assistance will be available to parents who need to take time away from work to visit an injured dependent child who is hospitalised after a transport accident (up to $10,000).

Dependency Benefits to Include Apprentices:

Previously a “dependent child” of a surviving partner of someone who was fatally injured was defined as one who is aged up to 16 or up to age 25 if they are a full-time student. This will now be extended to include full-time apprentices.

Removal of Mandatory 5-year Reviews of Loss of Earning Capacity Payments:

Where an injured person’s level of whole person impairment has been determined at 50% or more, they are entitled to receive ongoing Loss of Earning Capacity payments beyond the usual 3-year mark after an accident. The TAC would however mandatorily review this ongoing entitlement in 5 yearly cycles, putting the person’s entitlement at risk. This has been removed.

Administrator Fees:

Where a person lacks capacity to manage their own financial and legal affairs (a person “under a disability”), it is usual for a VCAT or Court-appointed professional Administrator to be involved. That Administrator is entitled to charge fees for administering the person’s estate. The TAC will now be required to fund these costs.

 

Tom Burgoyne of our Geelong office said “Rory has been a brave and determined client and it has been a privilege to act for him.  His courage in pursuing his rights has triggered great change and it has been most satisfying for me to have played a small role in a collaborative effort by the TAC, the Government and various stakeholders to see the rights of injured Victorians improved.”

We urge anyone who may be impacted by these amendments to seek legal advice without delay.

 

With an inspiring collaborative effort between the Victorian Government, the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) and various stakeholder groups, legislation was last night passed, introducing improved rights for cyclists in Victoria.

Our deserving client, local Drysdale resident Rory Wilson, has made legal history with his case the catalyst for various changes to the Transport Accident Act 1986.

Suffering severe injuries including paraplegia in a cycling accident on 9 July 2014 after colliding with a parked truck in Portarlington, the TAC denied Rory’s claim for compensation due to the then wording of the legislation in relation to cyclists. Rory and his legal team, headed by our very own Tom Burgoyne (pictured here with Rory yesterday), ran test case litigation in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal and the Supreme Court of Victoria.  The case served to highlight an anomaly in the law outlined in Tom’s article in the Law Institute Journal “Cyclists Beware” https://www.liv.asn.au/Staying-Informed/LIJ/LIJ/Jan-Feb-2018/Cyclists-beware and prompted inspiring lobbying efforts on behalf of Rory and cyclists in general.

The Treasury and Finance Legislation Amendment Act 2018 has as its centrepiece, amendments which ensure that a collision between a cyclist and a stationary vehicle will be covered by the TAC and not just in situations where a cyclist was riding to or from their place of employment.  This has been dubbed “Rory’s Law”.  Importantly, the change is retrospective to Rory’s date of accident on 9 July 2014 so he will now be covered for TAC compensation benefits including medical care. Other cyclists injured in similar situations on and from that date will also be covered.

Rory says: “I am extremely grateful and humbled with the change in the TAC legislation. I have been fortunate enough to have had a lot of local people in my corner supporting me all along. Amazingly, after fighting for 4 years this has happened in a way I never imagined possible”.

Tom Burgoyne states that “Rory and his wife Pauline have shown great resilience over the last 4 years. Rory’s law will now mean Rory, and other cyclists similarly injured, will get compensation relief to ease their burden.   Credit must be paid to the TAC for its handling of Rory’s litigation in a respectful manner as well as then not turning a blind eye to the anomaly it revealed, as well as to the Andrews Labor Government. There has been a real appetite shown to make change for the better. We are very proud this impetus has come from Geelong and the local community has really outdone itself with the support shown for Rory”. 

The team at Fortitude Legal congratulate you Rory for your bravery and determination in this fight.  It has been an honour to be a part of your journey.