House painter John Takacs won damages of $913,390 from the Uniting Church after hefell from the roof of a Sydney retirement village in 1999.
Lawyers said restrictions on damages payouts which had since been introduced in NSW would have reduced Mr Takacs’ compensation by “hundreds of thousands of dollars”.
The judgment was seized upon by NSW Bar Association president Michael Slattery QC, who is leading an election-linked campaign for better compensation for injured people.
He said the Takacs case highlighted how much money the changes had cost the state’s injured workers.
Mr Slattery is trying to persuade both sides of politics to eliminate inconsistencies in the different compensation systems that operate within NSW.
Premier Morris Iemma has vigorously resisted pressure to change these arrangements, saying the proposals would cost too much money and would benefit lawyers who run personal injury cases.
The Premier has said he will not go back on the tort law reforms introduced by his predecessor, Bob Carr, in 2001.
Mr Slattery rejected Mr Iemma’s argument and said there was ample capacity to increase awards for injured workers.
He said operating costs for WorkCover, which covered employees for workplace injuries, grew last financial year by $365 million, or 57 per cent.
Most of that blowout in operating expenses is believed to have gone to private insurance companies that operate the scheme on behalf of the Government.
The Coalition parties are having talks with the legal profession and will make an announcement during the campaign.
Under the current compensation system, injured workers cannot go to court unless their injuries pass a threshold test.
And those who require significant medical care are unable to sue for the cost of their continuing treatment. This forces most injured workers to pursue their claims through the state Workers Compensation Commission where payouts are significantly below those once awarded by courts.
Barrister Ross Letherbarrow SC said there was no doubt that Mr Takacs would have lost “hundreds of thousands of dollars” had his injury occurred after the compensation changes.
Mr Takacs, now 39, fell 9m off the roof of the Northaven Retirement Village in suburban Turramurra. He was knocked unconscious and suffered traumatic brain damage, broke his right elbow and wrist, damaged nerves in his right arm and suffered a nose injury that required surgery.
Mr Takacs said he suffered long-term anxiety and depression and short-term memory loss after the fall. A doctor told the NSW Supreme Court Mr Takacs had sustained a permanent disability in his right arm.
The court heard that after the accident, Mr Takacs had endured “interference with the marital relationship, with his ability to socialise with his children, and with his pre-accident occupational, social and recreational activities”.
He was unable to return to full-time work.
He claimed against the church for general damages, out of pocket expenses, economic loss and loss of earning capacity and domestic assistance, both past and future.
Mr Takacs said the Uniting Church had failed in its duty to provide a fence or safety harness. He tripped on a ridge in a metal roofing material known as Kliplok.
Mr Letherbarrow said that if Mr Takacs had been injured after the introduction of the new compensation arrangements, he would probably have needed to seek compensation from the Workers Compensation Commission.
He said it was still theoretically possible for people to seek court-ordered damages if they met the threshold test of 15 per cent “whole person impairment”.
But he said there were now severe restrictions on compensation awards made by courts. This meant most injured workers needed to rely on the Workers Compensation Commission.
“All the systems are different – the motor vehicle accident scheme, the civil liability scheme that covers injuries in public places and the new workers compensation system,” Mr Letherbarrow said.