17 July 2020

By Hugh Powell, Senior Associate

On a winter’s day in 2010, Michel Carroll and her partner, Steven Hill, were working from home. They were employed by a family company which provided financial advice. On that fateful day, Ms Carroll was killed by Mr Hill. The attack was brought on by a paranoid delusion. Despite having been charged with murder, Mr Hill was later found not guilty on the grounds of mental illness.

Over the years, we have seen more emphasis being placed on flexible work policies, such as working from home. This trend has really gathered momentum in the last six months out of pure necessity due to forced lockdowns at the direction of the State. It is not just workers and employers who are having to think on their feet while they try to adapt and respond to this shift in workplace environments. The impact has also been felt by workers’ compensation insurers.

Workers’ Compensation in Qld

In Queensland, the statutory workers’ compensation scheme is a no-fault scheme. For a worker to successfully apply for WorkCover benefits for a physical injury, they do not have to prove that someone else was at fault or that someone else was negligent. All that is required to be established is that there was a personal injury that arose out of, or during the course of, their employment and that their employment was a significant contributing factor to the personal injury. Additional elements are required for psychological injuries.

Additional elements are required for psychological injuries. With more and more workers performing their duties outside of their employer’s premises and, in many cases, working from home how does this impact an application for WorkCover benefits?

Workers’ Compensation Nominal Insurer v Hill

Returning to the tragic case noted above, Ms Carroll’s two dependent children lodged claims for workers’ compensation benefits. While this case was decided in New South Wales, their legislation is similar to what we have in Queensland. The critical issue in dispute was whether the death of Ms Carroll was work-related.

The Court confirmed that Ms Carroll’s death was work-related which therefore, entitled her children to workers’ compensation benefits.

Why the claim was upheld

While this claim was upheld, it certainly does not mean that any injury sustained while working from home would entitle a person to claim workers’ compensation benefits.

What got this claim across the line was the fact that the delusions which brought on the fatal attack had a direct connection with Ms Carroll’s employment.

Mr Hill believed that Ms Carroll was conspiring with ASIC and AMP to take away his clients and accreditation which evolved into other delusions about her being unfaithful. This was enough for the Court to accept a palpable and direct connection between the delusions, employment and the injury (death).

It is likely (though we can only speculate) this case would have been decided in a different way had Mr Hill’s delusions been focused on anything other than the employment issues. I certainly do not expect a case like this will trigger a barrage of claims from those working from home who injure themselves in that environment.

The facts of this case are quite unique given the relationship involved, the workplace environment and Mr Hill’s psychiatric state.

A timely reminder

This case serves as a timely reminder that work related injuries are not simply confined to the construction site, the factory floor or the office. Work related injuries can, and do, happen in the unlikeliest of places.

As the workplace environment for many Australians continues to evolve, I anticipate seeing more work-related injuries having been sustained at home. That is to be expected, given recent trends. It will be interesting to see how the law and Courts similarly evolve and adapt to the future workplace landscape.

Will injured workers in these flexible environments rue the greater freedom they yearn for? Only time will tell.

Workers Compensation Nominal Insurer v Hill [2020] NSWCA 54

Hugh Powell Travis Schultz & Partners

Hugh Powell

Senior Associate