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Trio liable for $465,000 truck driver injury payout

Trailer component deterioration went unreported for a year

 

The Supreme Court of Victoria highlights the safety shortcomings of three transport entities that must share damages of $465,000 over a truck driver unloading injury in 2015.

Klosed Pty Ltd, TNT Australia Pty Ltd and Redstar Transport Operations Pty Ltd (in liquidation) were all found partially accountable for their roles in Anthony Paul Muller’s ongoing pain and suffering caused by an incident in Caringbah, NSW while moving a steel gate to prepare for unloading by a forklift driver.

The Wangaratta Common Law Division heard Muller’s work involved driving a prime mover, owned by Klosed, towing two tautliner trailers belonging to TNT.

The latter was also responsible for the delivery of freight transported by Muller, though it engaged Redstar to inspect, service and repair the trailers.

Muller was required to move large steel gates on the side of each trailer, each suspended from a chain and bolt attached to a set of rollers that ran along a track at the top of that side of the trailer, and upon arrival prepare the trailers to be unloaded by a forklift driver.

Muller recalled the gates struggling to roll along the tracks on the front passenger side gate of one trailer, “which would snag and required more force to move”.

In March 2015, Muller was moving a gate when the attaching bolt fractured and the gate fell onto him.

He was unable to return to work until around mid-2018 and has since suffered severe low back pain and left leg symptoms, which will continue into the foreseeable future, according to medical assessments.

Muller alleged negligence by each of the three defendants.

In his evidence, the movement issue persisted for the year’s duration of his employment.

Despite the gate being more difficult to move, it was not a cause of concern at the time because he was still able to do the job, and the TNT loaders who worked with the gates more than he did would know about and report any problems.

Judge Andrew Keogh accepted evidence that the condition of the track was longstanding and there was wear on the bolt caused by rubbing against the track, rather than damage cause by a collision with a forklift or load.

In outlining TNT’s liability, Keogh explains that while it contracted the servicing and repair of the trailers, it did not simply rely on Redstar for trailer safety as it employed qualified mechanics to manage maintenance and repair.

“The persistent difficulty with movement of the gate should have been reported by TNT workers, leading to investigation of the problem and necessary repairs being performed,” Keogh says.

“While it had an appropriate system for reporting sticking gates so that they could be repaired, that system was not implemented or enforced on this occasion.

“Contrary to its own Work Method Statement, no action was taken by TNT workers to report the defective and sticking gate so that it could be repaired at the earliest opportunity in accordance with the Work Method Statement.”

It was also found that TNT was aware of a history of bolts failing, and the possibility that a worker might be injured as a result.

“The only responses by TNT to that risk were the systems for reporting defects, and the regular safety inspections and servicing of trailers,” Keogh says.

“TNT did not warn Mr Muller of the risk, or provide any instruction or training to allow him to avoid injury if a gate fell unexpectedly, which made it more important that there was compliance with systems for reporting and promptly repairing defective or sticking gates.”


How a livestock transport injury led to a $1.5 million payout, here


On Redstar, which was also responsible for safety inspections and maintenance, Keogh identifies two key shortcomings that led to the problem going undetected for a year.

“First, a safety inspection simply involved moving the rollers back and forth with the gate still in position . . . this meant movement of the rollers was only checked over a relatively small part of the track, and not under weight.

“Second, at least some inspections were by torchlight, either because they were conducted at night, or inside the trailer with the curtains closed.

“These deficiencies probably explain why it was that the very regular safety inspections by Redstar did not lead to discovery of the obvious difficulties moving the gate on the A trailer, and the developing wear on the bolt.

“Had Redstar met these obligations the bolt would have been replaced, and the incident would not have occurred.

“I conclude there was negligence by Redstar which was a cause of the incident and injury to Mr Muller.”

Judge Keogh reserved some criticism for Klosed, after Muller noted he would have simply been told to ‘tell TNT’ of any issues raised with his employer.

A “reasonable employer” in Klosed’s position should have been aware that “Muller experienced difficulty with the gate sticking and requiring force to move it for the whole period of his employment up to the date of the incident”, Judge Keogh says, and that the problem had not been resolved.

However, within context, Klosed “did not control the trailer or the premises from which TNT operated and was not directly responsible for developing or implementing systems of work relating to the use of the trailers”, reducing its overall liability.

The final damages included $275,000 for pain and suffering and $190,000 for economic loss, with TNT and Redstar both apportioned 45 per cent and Klosed 10 per cent of the total sum.

 

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