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Scope of Duty to Cooperate under s279 of the Workers' Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003

9 July 2013

Dwyer v Framemaster (Qld) Pty Ltd [2013] QDC 150

In this recent Queensland District Court decision, the Applicant failed in his Application in which he sought disclosure of two files held by WorkCover in relation to claims made by another employee.  The Application was heard by Kingham DCJ.  

 

Background

On 13 August 2010, the Applicant was working on a planing machine.  He alleges that a piece of wood became jammed in the machine and he pulled it out by hand.  As he did this, he alleges a splinter of wood pierced his glove and skin causing a wound which later became infected.  He claimed the machine he was working on had a history of jamming and it was common for machine operators to get splinters in their hands and the employer ('the Respondent') was aware of this.

The Applicant sought disclosure of two files held by WorkCover relating to other claims by another employee of Framemaster.  The information before the Court did not establish whether the claims related to the same machine the Applicant was using at the time he sustained his injury.

The Applicant's lawyers relied on the duty to cooperate pursuant to s279 of the Workers' Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (WCRA). S279 of the WCRA relevantly states:

"279 Parties to cooperate

  1. The parties must cooperate in relation to a claim, in particular by -

(a)   giving each other copies of relevant documents about -

(i)   the circumstances of the event resulting in the injury; and

(ii)  the worker's injury; and

(iii) the worker's prospects of rehabilitation...". 

 

The Respondent argued the request fell outside the scope of that duty. The question in this case was whether the boundary to the duty to cooperate was drawn by reference to the circumstances itself, or by a broader test of relevance.

 

Decision

Her Honour accepted that the relevant parts of s279 of the WCRA provided a non-exclusive list of ways in which the duty to cooperate might be fulfilled but it did not mean such duty is without limit.  It was common ground the files could be expected to contain material which could have no bearing on the claim before the Court and could also be expected to contain personal and confidential material, such as medical information about the other employee.

Her Honour accepted WorkCover's Counsel's argument that the scope of the duty to disclose was limited to the categories specified in s279(1). Her Honour went on to state the Applicant may seek disclosure of any documents directly relevant to an allegation in issue in the pleadings pursuant to r211 of the UCPR.

Her Honour therefore decided the orders sought by the Applicant would compel disclosure of material which did not relate to the circumstances of the event which caused the injury, and was not directly relevant to any issue in the proceedings.  Her Honour declined to make the orders.

 

Comment

Although proceedings had commenced, the parties' obligation to cooperate and to provide information and documents under the WCRA were continuing obligations.

It seems however a Respondent can seek to control the scope and terms of the information sought, or argue questions of relevance and necessity before the Court. 

 

For more information contact:

Sharon McKay | Solicitor
Mullins Lawyers
t +61 7 3224 0378
f +61 7 3224 0333
smckay@mullinslaw.com.au

Cameron Seymour | Partner
Mullins Lawyers
t +61 7 3224 0360
f +61 7 3224 0333
cseymour@mullinslaw.com.au

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