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AUSTRALIA – QUEENSLAND: Employer liable for both breaches for Supervisor ‘assault on an employee


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AUSTRALIA – QUEENSLAND: Employer liable for both breaches for Supervisor ‘assault on an employee

The background

The plaintiff was employed as a custodian corrections officer by Queensland Corrective Services at the Woodford Correctional Centre.

The plaintiff commenced employment from about mid-August 2014 and ceased employment in March 2018 (having been in receipt of workers’ compensation payments from 9 March 2017).

On 22 January 2017, the plaintiff was physically assaulted by his immediate supervisor, in the context of a disagreement about a prisoner.

The plaintiff alleged that his supervisor ‘punched him in the guts’ and then cautioned a nearby group of officers that he would do the same to them if he were challenged.

The plaintiff was unsure about what to do and spoke to another guard about the incident. He decided he would speak to the supervisor but did not get the chance to, and then had several scheduled days off. Upon his return, the plaintiff was approached by the section manager, who asked the plaintiff to make a report about the incident. The plaintiff provided a report on 2 February 2017. He alleged that upon his return, he was met with constant remarks from other officers about him having ‘dobbed’ in his supervisor, and he was ridiculed for doing so. The plaintiff was referred to EAP but alleged that no other action was taken by his employer.



Court’s decision

The court found that the conduct of the plaintiff’s supervisor amounted to a wrongful form of management.

In that regard, the court said that the employment of the supervisor provided not only the opportunity but also the occasion for his assault of the plaintiff, in the sense that he was able to take advantage of his position of authority in respect of the plaintiff.

Therefore, the supervisor’s wrongful act was not merely a manifestation of some emotional outburst between the supervisor and the plaintiff, but rather, a wrongful form of management of a subordinate by his superior.

In relation to the subsequent conduct of the plaintiff’s employer, the court noted that the employer was under a duty to take reasonable care to protect the plaintiff from the remarks made by his colleagues, and to reasonably support him. The court found that the employer’s policies were lacking in that regard and more support ought to have been provided to the plaintiff in the circumstances.

The court therefore held that the cumulative effect of both the punching incident, and the subsequent treatment of the plaintiff, contributed to his psychiatric injury.

The court found that the employer was liable for both breaches, basing its decision on the medical evidence. The court assessed damages as per the following table.


Head of Damage Amount
General Damages  $      8,630.00
Past Economic Loss  $ 1,24,589.77
Interest on Past Economic Loss  $      2,728.57
Past Superannuation  $      6,679.23
Future Economic Loss  $    48,450.00
Future Superannuation  $      5,814.00
Past Special Damages  $      8,392.68
Interest on Past Special Damages  $           13.80
Future Special Damages  $      2,450.00
Sub-total  $ 2,07,838.05
Less WorkCover refund  $    49,723.20
Total  $ 1,58,114.85



It is convenient to note some general propositions of principle in respect of the determination of the issues so raised:

as to an employer’s duty of care:

  • it is a duty to take reasonable steps to provide a safe place and system of work, with emphasis being upon an obligation to take “reasonable steps for the safety of its workers”;
  • as described in Turner V State of South Australia, it is a duty to take reasonable care to avoid exposing employees to unnecessary risk of injury rather than to insure employees against danger:

“The duty of an employer is to take reasonable care to avoid exposing his employees to unnecessary risk of injury: Hamilton v Nuroof (Western Australia) Pty Ltd (1956) 96 CLR 18 at 25. The employer is not an insurer of his employees against danger.

 “For plaintiff to succeed it must appear, by direct evidence or by reasonable inference from the evidence, that the defendant unreasonably failed to take measures or adopt means, reasonably open to him in all the circumstances, which would have protected the plaintiff from the dangers of his task without unduly impeding its accomplishment”: Vozza v Tooth & Co Ltd (1964) 112 CLR 316 at 319.

When the employer does unreasonably fail to take a precaution against danger, the plaintiff cannot succeed unless he satisfies the court that if that precaution had been taken the injury would probably have been averted, or, in other words, that the safety measures would have been effective and that he would have made use of them if available: Duyvelshaff v Cathcart & Ritchie Ltd (1973) 47 ALJR 410 at 416 – 417, 419.”


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This blog has been collated and compiled by the internal staff of Karma Global with the knowledge and expertise that they possess, besides adaptation, illustration, derivation, transformation, collection as well as auto generation from various sources, for its monthly newsletter Issue 13 of July   2023 and in case of specific or general information or compliance updates for that matter, kindly reach out to the Karma Global

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