WCRA: narrow construction of s.279(1) – duty to provide information

Healy v Logan City Council [2016] QCA 314

Fraser and Morrison JJA and Burns J

The application concerned the proper construction of s 279(1) of the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld) (“the Act”). The section provides:

(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; and

(b) giving information reasonably requested by each other party about—

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

(ii) the nature of the injury and of any impairment or financial loss resulting from the injury; and

(iii) if applicable—the medical treatment and rehabilitation the worker has sought from, or been provided with, by the worker’s employer or the insurer; and

(iv) the worker’s medical history, as far as it is relevant to the claim; and

(v) any applications for compensation made by the claimant or worker for any injury resulting from the same event

The primary judge denied the applicant’s request for information pursuant to s 279(1) of the Act. The primary judge construed “in particular” to limit the duty to disclose only the items listed in paragraphs (a) and (b) as opposed to construing the term to mean “including”.

The applicant contended that leave to appeal should be granted because it is arguable that the primary judge erred in the construction of s 279(1) and that the applicant will suffer injustice by the non-receipt of the requested information. The respondent contended that the interpretation is correct but does not contend that the construction of s 279(1) is not important.

Fraser JA, with whom Morrison JA and Burns J concurred, held that:

[7] The applicant argues that the duty to cooperate expressed in the introductory words of s 279(1) extends to information which is not comprehended within paragraph (b) of s 279(1)… The applicant advocated “especially” as the meaning of the expression “in particular by”.  The adoption of that meaning would seem to convey that the duty to cooperate in the specified ways is more important than other aspects of a general duty to cooperate in relation to a claim.

[8] Otherwise, the constructional choice for “must cooperate… in particular by” seems to be between the broad meaning of “must cooperate… particularly (in the sense of “including”) by” and the narrow meaning of “must cooperate… in detail (in the sense of specifying the extent of the duty to cooperate) by”. Both meanings are open on the text but, in my view, the relevant contextual indications uniformly militate against the broad construction and in favour of the narrow construction.

[9] … The applicants’ construction would deprive [paragraphs (a) and (b)] of their apparently intended effect of identifying the classes of documents and information which the parties are required to exchange.

[16] Whilst it might be said that the object of facilitating justice supports the broad construction of s 279, that construction might be thought to be at odds with the requirement to pursue expedition in the resolution of the real issues in a damages claim and at a minimum of expense.

[22] I would hold that the introductory words of s 279(1) of the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 do not require a party to cooperate in relation to a claim by giving another party information or copies of documents other than information or documents which fall within the terms of paragraph (a) or (b).

 David Cormack – Brisbane Barrister & Mediator

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