Ms Cowan was an employee of Bunnings at Mt Isa. Her duties included keeping the area outside of the “Trade Shed” clean and tidy. In March 2008, bags of chicken manure which had been stored outside of the shed had split and spilled their contents. The fertiliser had dried in the sun and became a very fine dust. She spent 2 ½ hours sweeping, dusting, rebagging and disposing of the fertiliser. She observed the fine particles floating around in the air. Ms Cowan did not wear any personal protective equipment. During the course of that task, she began to regularly sneeze, cough and her nose began to run. She stated that by the time she had finished the task that she was absolutely covered in it.
The next day she attended work. Ms Cowan had a headache and was so unwell that she was sent home. Her health quickly deteriorated and she was airlifted to Townsville Hospital. She was diagnosed with inflammation of the membranes of the brain and spinal cord, inflammation of the brain itself and blood poisoning.
Bunnings argued that her serious illness was due to a pre-existing respiratory illness (flu), smoking and the general presence of atmospheric sulphur dioxide at Mt Isa. It suggested that on the basis of these other possible causes, Ms Cowan could not prove on the balance of probabilities that her exposure to the manure caused her illness.
The Judge was satisfied that Ms Cowan’s exposure to the dust caused her grave illness. While the event was unusual, the close relationship between the timing of the exposure and the development of the illness meant that explanation not only accorded with common sense but also satisfied the legal test of “causation”. While other causes were advanced as possibilities, the only viable ones involved such a high degree of coincidence (and indeed, awfully bad luck) to be considerably less plausible than the dust being the cause of the illness.
In December 2014, Ms Cowan was successful in the case. She received $700,000 clear of the refund to WorkCover.
At McColm Matsinger Lawyers, we are not deterred at first glance as to whether other health complaints or environmental/social circumstances may impact upon your rights to compensation. We do not assume anything when it comes to your health and injury. We will listen carefully to you and explore all relevant aspects thoroughly. If in order, we will seek opinions from a suitable expert.
For more information contact McColm Matsinger Lawyers.