Bank manager claims flu shots caused chronic fatigue

Bank manager claims flu shots caused chronic fatigue

By Jim Wilson on 15 May 2018 A former bank manager has lost her bid for compensation after she claimed work-provided  flu vaccinations gave her chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME).

Magistrate Brian Wright, of the Magistrates Court of Victoria, accepted that Kellie Rawlings had a long and detailed history of ill-health. However, he did not accept she had CFS/ME nor that the vaccinations played any part in causing any of her illnesses. 

Background


Ms Rawlings has suffered chronic and extensive psychological and physical ill-health for many years. She testified that, by mid-to-late 2010, she was diagnosed as suffering from CFS/ME. The doctors who allegedly made that diagnosis did not give evidence.

Her symptoms included sleep disorders, fatigue, pain, headaches, cognitive problems, dizziness and balance issues, flu-like symptoms (coughs, sore throat etc.), nausea, bloating and irritable bowel syndrome (diarrhoea/constipation). 

Ms Rawlings attributed the onset of CFS/ME symptoms to being vaccinated against influenza at work. She obtained a job as a branch manager for ANZ in 2007. The bank arranged and paid for two separate influenza vaccinations, one in 2007 and the other in 2008. 

Shortly after the first injection she reported being hot, sweating and aching. There was aching and tiredness thereafter on and off for most of the year. She also reported increasingly worse, and increasingly diverse, symptoms over the following year. 

She received the second flu vaccination in April 2008. She thereafter reported an adverse reaction around the vaccination site on her arm along with a variety of flu-like symptoms but to a “worse degree” than before with longer recovery periods. 

Although Ms Rawlings appeared to have initially performed well in her role for which she received bonus payments, by June 2008 the bank was concerned her performance had deteriorated. At the time, in addition to her health issues, she was also experiencing considerable personal stresses owing to financial, legal, and parenting issues and conflict with a previous husband. 

By mid-2008 she had exhausted her sick-leave entitlements. She was also complaining that she did not get respect from her team and felt unsupported. A HR advisor met with her to give advice as to other roles and locations at the bank in which she could work. 

In July 2008, Ms Rawlings was warned by her manager that she was not fulfilling her duties and she was put on an performance plan. She was warned that a failure to improve might lead to a further warning and termination of employment.

Her symptoms were getting worse and she was having difficulty remembering conversations and what needed to be done. Eventually, in November 2008, Ms Rawlings realised she was getting more ill and she decided to put her health first by resigning, eventually finishing in December that year. 

Over the next few years her health continued to worsen and she developed more, and more diverse, symptoms. Ms Rawlings saw a number of different medical specialists in a variety of fields of medicine for a wide range of psychological and physical complaints. 

Extensive medical evidence in the form of expert witnesses and scientific studies were tendered in evidence. 

The law


Under s82 of the Accident Compensation Act 1985 (Vic) a worker is entitled to compensation if he or she suffers any injury arising out of, or in the course of, employment. However there is no entitlement to compensation from contracting a disease in the course of employment unless that employment significantly contributed to the injury. 

Arguments


Ms Rawlings sought benefits under the Accident Compensation Act 1985.,She argued that she suffered a triggering or an aggravation of pre-existing CFS/ME, and subsequent psychiatric injuries, as a consequence of being vaccinated at work. 

ANZ argued that Ms Rawlings had not sustained any work-related physical injury. Even though Ms Rawlings might be quite unwell, she had not sustained a physical injury. Alternatively, it argued that if Ms Rawlings did in fact have CFS/ME then it bore no relationship either to her employment or to the vaccinations. If she had any psychiatric injuries, the bank argued, then that was only relevant if it was a work-related condition, which it denied.

ANZ did not concede that Ms Rawlings was incapable of work. 

Questions


The key questions where therefore what, if any, conditions did Ms Rawlings have and were any of those conditions caused by the vaccinations? 

Considerations


Magistrate Wright noted that Ms Rawlings had a lengthy and detailed history of ill health including depression, coeliac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, cardiac and circulatory issues, gynaecological issues and musculoskeletal problems.

But there was no hard evidence that Ms Rawlings had CFS/ME. 

The magistrate noted there was no simple test to diagnose CFS. Instead, there is a three-stage process diagnosis that is “heavily dependent” on a full and accurate medical history. However, there was no evidence that a single doctor had examined Ms Rawlings and carried out that process. There was only a series of medical records from a variety of medical specialists that Ms Rawlings' lawyers had “cobbled” together with the assertion that the symptoms matched CFS/ME. 

“Having regard to [her] multitudinous medical conditions and medications, it is almost impossible to filter out any possibly relevant CFS symptoms,” the magistrate said.

The magistrate noted expert witness evidence that the possibility of vaccination being the cause of CFS was “tenuous at best”. He took into account four medical studies cited to the court, one of which involved an examination of the whole population of Norway, which weighed against the probability that vaccinations were a cause of her illnesses.

Held by the court


Magistrate Wright held that Ms Rawlings did not have CFS/ME, that the vaccinations did not cause any of her ill-health and that issues in her personal life were the likely cause of any deterioration in her health. While she was not capable of work owing to ill-health, neither her inability to work nor her ill-health were due to her employment, or any work-related injury at the bank or any post-vaccination syndrome, which, he ruled, did not exist anyway.

He dismissed Ms Rawlings’ claim. 

The bottom line: An employee or a former employee must be able to prove that any injury arose out of, or in the course of, employment. If that connection cannot be proved then there will be no liability under the Accident Compensation Act 1985 (Vic). Employers may wish to note the extensive medical evidence (expert witness testimony and extensive, high quality, medical studies) in this case weighing against the claim that vaccinations cause long-term adverse health effects. 

Read the judgment


Kellie Rawlings v Australian and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd
 

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