The Supreme Court of Queensland has recently awarded damages in the sum of $1,634,418.55 to a registered nurse whom was injured through the course of her employment for the Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service.

Background

The Plaintiff, Trinet Ruth Wilson, was employed as a registered nurse by the Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service, working in the Specialised Medical Unit (SMU) at the Robina Hospital.

On 12 March 2016, the Plaintiff was attending to a patient whom had become extremely agitated, disruptive, and physically violent. A ‘Code Black’ was called, with two security officers attending the ward. Attempts were made to administer an intra-muscular injection to the patient, with the two security guards physically restraining the patient’s upper body. As there was no one else present to assist with the restraint, the Plaintiff restrained the patient’s legs, standing at the base of the patient’s bed. Subsequently, the patient has kicked out her legs in the direction of the Plaintiff, resulting in the Plaintiff sharply jerking back and twisting her body in a reflex response. Soon thereafter, the Plaintiff experienced the onset of significant sacroiliac pain.

The Plaintiff claimed damages for personal injury arising out of the event that occurred on 12 March 2016, alleging that she had sustained both orthopaedic and psychological injuries as a result of the subject incident.

Liability

At trial, the Plaintiff contended that the Defendant had breached the duty of care owed to her by virtue of: –

  1. Its failure to respond appropriately to the Code Black which was called;
  2. Its failure to respond adequately to the situation, whether a Code Black was called or not;
  3. The failure of the security officers who attended the ward to call for ‘back up’;
  4. The way in which the restraint was finalised by the security officers; and
  5. The failure to adequately train the Plaintiff in the physical restraint of patients, including a failure to instruct her that she should, wherever possible, leave restraint to security officers, or alternatively, the failure to instruct nurses not to participate in the physical restraint of a patient under any circumstances.

As summarised by Ryan J, the Defendant’s final position with respect to liability was that the Plaintiff’s claim out to fail, as: –

  1. There was no risk of injury of which the Defendant knew, or ought to have known, and that the risk of injury was insignificant;
  2. In the alternative, if there was a not insignificant risk of injury, a reasonable person in the Defendant’s position would not have taken the steps the Plaintiff alleged it ought to have taken to protect against that risk of injury; or
  3. The Plaintiff had failed to prove that any step the Defendant out to have taken would have prevented injury.

Decision

As aforementioned, judgment was made in the Plaintiff’s favour, with the court awarding $1,634,418.55.

The court found that the Defendant was negligent in failing to instruct the Plaintiff to not participate in the physical restraint of a patient, suggesting instead that the Plaintiff ought to have been at the patient’s head, reassuring her whilst those properly trained in restraint techniques restrained her. In addition, the court found that the Defendant was also negligent by virtue of the failure of the security officers to call for a third officer to take part in the restraint.

The Plaintiff’s orthopaedic injuries were considered in the context of not insignificant pre-existing injuries, namely a sacroiliac joint condition that necessitated a fusion and disc replacement procedure in 2015.

The court opined that any risk of this pre-existing condition preventing the Plaintiff from working at all prior to the date of trial was not likely, particularly in view of the good results she’d obtained from surgery, but nevertheless acknowledged that there was a small risk of this occurring. Accordingly, a reduction of the claimed sum for past economic loss was made in the order of 12.5%, bringing the awarded amount to $473,548.16.

With respect to future economic loss, a discount of 50% to the amount claimed by the Plaintiff was considered appropriate. This discount was based “broadly on the vicissitudes of life” and was not made entirely on the basis of the Plaintiff’s pre-existing condition. An award of $800,000.00 for future economic lass was made by the court.

Further awards were made for general damages, in the sum of $25,150.00, and past and future expenses.

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