Connolly and Connolly v Simon Blackwood (Workers’ Compensation Regulator) [2015] QIRC 016

The issue of worker, injury and arising out of in the course of employment was conceded.

However, Commissioner Thompson considered that the issue was not one of “reasonable management action” under the exclusion in s.32(5) of the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (WCRA), but if the stressor relied upon was a “significant contributing factor” (prior to the amendment on 29/10/2013).

Commissioner Thompson found the incident on 25/11/2012 was not a significant contributing factor.

[230] In consideration of the evidence there is ample proof to support that an exchange occurred between Connolly and Jahnke on 25 November 2012 and that it was heated with each of the parties contributing to the aggressive nature of the exchange. Connolly as the employer was within his rights to raise issue with Jahnke regarding the previous evening however on his evidence he was immediately confronted by a person acting in a “very volatile” manner with the exchange developing from there into a slanging match of sorts between the two. I am unable to find the behaviour exhibited by Connolly was any more or less aggressive than the behaviour of Jahnke. I certainly do not accept the version offered by Morris of the threat of a physical attack on Jahnke as being imminent, a position which I suggest was borne out by the response to the situation of Paul Jahnke who would be unlikely to stand by whilst his wife was the subject of a threatened assault.

[231] The question is whether the exchange between the two was a significant contributing factor to the injury or whether Jahnke suffered a psychiatric/psychological injury for which the causation was not work-related. Dr Duke in formulating his diagnosis that it was a work-related injury did so without being informed by Jahnke of her past mental health history. Information relating to mental health conditions in the 1990s, 2005 and 2007 were withheld by Jahnke in the course of her consultations with Dr Duke including significant period of hospitalisation. Dr Duke when advised of the history in the proceedings was not inclined to alter his diagnosis although he did give evidence to the effect:

“Certainly if – if somebody has a previous episode of depression, they’re more likely to have further episodes of depression. But, in many ways, it depends upon the context in which those depressive episodes occur, whether they tend to appear for no apparent reason, or whether they tend to occur in response to specific stresses. The depression that occurs in response to specific stresses is less likely to occur endogenously, but a depressive episode that occurs out of the blue, as it were, does predispose somebody to experiencing further depressive episodes arising out of the blue.” [Transcript p. 5-31]

[232] Dr Duke in his report to WorkCover (dated 14 January 2013) had stated: “Ms Jahnke has a history of a number of medical conditions. In particular she has suffered from hypertension, obesity, a prolonged QT interval, hyperlipidemia, osteoarthritis, reflux, polyarthralgia and diabetes. She is under the care of a General Practitioner for these conditions, the majority of which have improved following partial gastrectomy in May 2012.”

[233] I have concluded there is insufficient evidence before the proceedings to find on the balance of probabilities that the incident of 25 November 2012 involving Connolly and Jahnke was a significant contributing factor to the causation of her psychiatric/psychological injury. [234] Having found that the injury was in effect not work-related, it is not necessarily incumbent upon the Commission to offer a view on the causation of the injury and to do so would be in this case speculative however it is of note Dr Duke in evidence offered the opinion that a person who had previously suffered an episode of depression was likely to have further episodes of depression which could tend to appear for no apparent reason or in response to specific pressures.

David Cormack – Brisbane Barrister & Mediator  

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