In RSL Care Limited v Wallace (2019), an employer lost an appeal against a previous decision in 2017 where it was ordered to pay its worker $480,784 in damages.
The care home worker had slipped on a wet floor while showering a wheelchair-bound patient, injuring her left ankle.
As a result of the injury, she later developed deep vein thrombosis and two pulmonary embolisms. She is no longer able to perform any heavy work and will need to take anticoagulant medication for the rest of her life.
In the original case, Wallace v RSL Care Limited (2017), the Queensland District Court found that the employer could have prevented the fall and breached its duty of care to the worker as the shower floor had either been poorly installed or poorly maintained.
Although the flooring material that was used met the relevant Australian standards for use in wet areas, the injured worker and other colleagues at the care home told the court they found the floor to be slippery when wet.
However, District Court Judge David Reid did not find the workers’ evidence to be reliable and instead accepted evidence provided by an experienced engineer with expertise in Australian slip resistance standards.
The engineer found that the condition of the floor was inadequate when he tested it, more than five years after the incident.
He said to the court “Had an appropriate health and safety audit been conducted of the premises (either at design stage, during construction or after) the high potential for slips and falls on vinyl floors in ensuites could have been identified”.
In the appeal hearing, RSL Care argued that the results of the engineer’s test were not indicative of the state of the floor five years earlier, when the accident happened, and that the judge in the first hearing should have addressed this when making his decision.
While the bench found that there was some validity in this argument, they noted the judge had to conclude whether the employer had been negligent or not, and that “on the balance of probabilities” it was more likely it had been negligent.
The employer had failed to follow the floor manufacturer’s written maintenance tips which suggested that the floor be swept and mopped daily using a neutral detergent, and scrubbed weekly using a machine or soft-bristled broom and a solution of neutral detergent.
The instructions stated that no acidic cleaners were to be used, as this would cause damage to the floors.
The employer admitted that the floors were only swept of dust and mopped by cleaners on sometimes just a weekly basis and that it had used a hard-bristled scrubbing machine in combination with hot water and acidic cleaner on the floors every three months.
Justice John Bond said this “represented departures from the manufacturer’s guidelines”, further noting that the employer was unable to explain what it had done before and after the accident to ensure the floor did not become slippery.
“[R]easonable steps had not been taken by the appellant so that the state of the floors in the ensuite were as slip resistant as reasonably possible so as to avoid injuries such as the respondent said she suffered,” he said.
The injured worker also filed a cross-appeal, arguing that the future economic loss component of her damages was under-assessed by about $220,000.
The bench dismissed the employer’s appeal and worker’s cross-appeal, upholding the original decision ordering the employer to pay the worker $480,784.