Civil damages available to children of deceased worker

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Civil damages available to children of deceased worker

See: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/high_ct/2003/33.htmlGifford v Strang Patrick Stevedoring Pty Ltd [2003] HCA 33 (18 June 2003) - Gleeson CJ, McHugh, Gummow, Kirby, Hayne and Callinan JJ.

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The High Court has ruled that the children of an employee who died in a work accident can recover damages for psychiatric injury arising from the death.

The employer was found to have a duty to take reasonable care to avoid causing psychiatric injury or illness to the children.

There has been an established line of recovery for persons who suffered mental distress and illness from witnessing injury and death. However, in this case the forklift accident was not witnessed by the claimants (the children). The NSW Court of Appeal had ruled in favour of the employer.

This case followed a decision awarding damages to the parents of a young jackeroo for nervous shock arising from hearing about their son’s death (Annett’s case (2002) 76 ALJR 1348).

The High Court could see no logical reason for denying similar entitlements to the children of a deceased employee.

Justice McHugh suggested that the duty could arguably extend to others who are in a close and loving relationship to an employee. The judge stated that it is the closeness and affection of the relationship - rather than the legal status of the relationship - which is relevant in determining whether a duty is owed to the person suffering psychiatric harm.

If this line of litigation develops there could be a revival of common law actions involving the death of employees. 

If the courts are willing to further extend the common law duty owed to those suffering psychiatric injury or illness arising from serious physical injuries to loved ones then the common law would be accordingly further extended.

See: Gifford v Strang Patrick Stevedoring Pty Ltd [2003] HCA 33 (18 June 2003) - Gleeson CJ, McHugh, Gummow, Kirby, Hayne and Callinan JJ.

 

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