An electrician who injured his back helping to carry a 400-kilogram switchboard has been awarded almost $1.3 million for injuries he sustained while working for Canberra electrical provider ActewAGL.
Mitchell Roberson successfully sued his employer in the ACT Supreme Court over two injuries he said he sustained over the course of his employment with ActewAGL. The lion’s share of money awarded to Mr Roberson was due to an incident where he had to help lift a 400-kilogram switchboard in precarious circumstances.
He and three other men were required to lift the equipment while removing it from Canberra Airport in late 2017. Mr Roberson had to do so while also keeping his legs wide apart, to straddle a cabling trench beneath his feet.
“The defendant was negligent in failing to provide appropriate lifting equipment to avoid the need for the plaintiff to manually lift the switchboard at the Canberra Airport,” Acting Justice Robert Crowe said. “The system of work which required four men to lift such a large weight, particularly in the awkward conditions created by the presence of the trench was, it seems to me, extremely hazardous.”
Lawyers for ActewAGL argued Mr Roberson may have actually incurred the injury the following day, when he picked up his four-year-old daughter. However Justice Crowe said lifting the little girl had only exacerbated the injury caused by the heavy switchboard.
In another instance, about 10 months later, Mr Roberson was required to work on top of a switchboard in an awkward position, when he felt a sharp stabbing pain in his hip and back, which he described as nine or 10 out of 10 intensity. With regards to that injury the court found ActewAGL had failed to minimise risk by providing a scissor lift, so Mr Roberson would not have to perch atop the switchboard to do his work.
Mr Roberson also tried to sue over a third injury, incurred in 2013, but the court found he had made the application too late. The court heard Mr Roberson felt “pretty useless” after the injury to his hip in 2018, which subsequently affected his relationship with his partner. He said a set of recommendations prepared by one of his doctors effectively prevented him from working in manual labour jobs, leaving him anxious and uncertain about his future.
But Justice Crowe said it was Mr Roberson’s back injury that was the primary reason he could not continue working as an electrician.
“It is clear that the injury to the plaintiff’s lower back has had major consequences for his life,” he said. “It has left him with a significant degree of pain and disability, which he will likely experience for the rest of his life.”
Justice Crowe awarded him more than $1.1 million over that injury, and a further $181,000 over the injury to his hip, totalling $1.297 million. The money included damages, out of pocket expenses, the cost of care and assistance, and lost earning capacity.
Despite a large portion of the money awarded covering lost earning capacity, Justice Crowe expressed hope Mr Roberson would find a new line of work.
“I am confident that once the stresses and uncertainties of the litigation are in the past, he will reassess his career and seek to retrain so that he can use his undoubted skills and natural abilities in administrative or supervisory work,” he said.
Source: ABC News