Employer Negligent and Liable for “Unprecedented Situation”

In a recent case before the Supreme Court of Victoria, Ceva Logistics Australia Pty Ltd (‘the Employer’) was found to be contributorily negligent and liable for 35% of an employee’s $2 million damages award.[1]

Mr Ugo Meli (‘the Employee’) was confronted with what Judge McDonald described as an “unprecedented situation” when eight metal load security gates weighing 300 kg crashed down on top of him after being untied in the back of a freighter truck.

The injuries sustained by the Employee included a fractured pelvis, chronic pain and PTSD which was evaluated as a 78 per cent level of disability. The Employee subsequently sued HRX TPT Pty Limited (‘HRX’), the company responsible for the initial securing of the gates, and the Employer for damages.

HRX’s failure to secure the gates safely was held to be the “fundamental cause” of the incident as it was found to have had “total control” over fastening the gates and this created a duty to not expose any person untying them to injury. Accordingly, HRX was found to be 65% liable for the accident.

Judge McDonald found that the eight gates were secured by only one rope, contrary to ‘usual practise’ for the gates to be tied together in groups of two or three at a time, and held that “It was reasonably foreseeable that if eight gates weighing 300kg were secured by one rope, the gates would be likely to fall onto and injure the person who untied that rope”.

The Employer was also found liable (albeit to a lesser amount of 35% of damages) for poor safety protocol in the untying of the gates and not providing adequate lighting.

Judge McDonald awarded the Employee the maximum statutory amount of $598,360 for pain and suffering attributed to the injury and $1,374,370 for economic loss minus the $430,000 he had received in workers’ compensation.

[1] Meli, Ugo v Ceva Logistics (Australia) P/L and HRX TPT P/L [2017] VSC 739

If you would like to discuss any WHS concerns that your company may have, please do not hesitate to contact Nick Stevens, Megan Cant or Isabella Paganin.

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