ACT News


$600,000 damages for barista injured by years of steaming milk

A Canberra barista who had a rib removed and suffered permanent disability due to years of steaming jugs of milk has won a payout of almost $600,000.

Christine Joy D'Amico, 52, began working at Madeleine's Cafe at Calvary Hospital in 2004, with the not-for-profit group Calvary Hospital Auxiliary Inc.

Mrs D'Amico made coffee from 8am to 3.30pm weekdays, requiring her to fill a stainless steel jug with milk and hold it under a steam nozzle for about a minute at a time, without being able to rest the two-kilogram jug on any surface.

The coffee machine was on a bench, but Mrs D'Amico was of below average height, being about 160 centimetres tall, and she had to reach up to operate it.

She worked through extremely busy peak periods at the hospital at lunch and in the morning, when she would often receive individual orders of up to 20 coffees.

But Mrs D'Amico's problems began to worsen when a new employee started at the cafe.


The new worker couldn't cope with the large number of customers, forcing Mrs D'Amico to make all the coffees.

In 2006, the barista began to feel pain in her elbow and down her right wrist, and was given medication and exercises by her doctor to help.

But, as ACT Supreme Court Master David Harper wrote in his judgment, the cafe became more and more busy as the year went on.

''The pressure was constant between 8.30am and 11am,'' Master Harper wrote.

''Her arm got worse. As the months went by during 2006 she had pain from the shoulder to the wrist, and her hand and forearm were swollen and turning blue.''

University students were hired to help out, but customers began to complain about the quality of the coffee, and wanted it made by Mrs D'Amico.

''As this went on, and after September 2006, the plaintiff's right arm symptoms got worse.

''She had severe pain down her arm, which she described as like a toothache. The arm was blue and the fingers were swollen.''

Her doctor feared she had a blood clot in her right arm, and sent her to hospital, where she was put on a heparin drip, and spent four nights in hospital.

Doctors were later forced to surgically remove a rib from her right side, and she was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a disorder of the nerves and circulation.

A new company took over the cafe and they introduced lighter jugs, moved the machine, and installed a longer steam nozzle, meaning the worker no longer needed to hold up the jug.

But Mrs D'Amico, who had returned to light duties, did not improve and eventually quit.

She continued to struggle with everyday household tasks, such as cleaning the shower, lifting things out

of the oven, or holding pots and pans. She eventually lost some feeling and movement in her fingers, and went to see various specialists for help.

Calvary Hospital Auxiliary Inc was eventually taken to the ACT Supreme Court for a worker's compensation claim.

Master Harper accepted Mrs D'Amico as an honest and reliable witness who had been loyal to the Auxiliary and reluctant to complain about her injuries.

He noted the Auxiliary was a not-for-profit organisation, with a board of unpaid members, who should be applauded for their voluntary work with the hospital.

But Master Harper said they still owed the same duty of care to their employees as any other employer, noting that she had complained about the injuries she was suffering, and attributed them to the way she was making the coffee.

''The defendant should have done something about this,'' Master Harper wrote.

''If it had, the injury to the plaintiff might have been arrested before her disability became permanent.''

Maurice Blackburn lawyer Andrew Finlay said the cafe had been aware that the system of work was unsafe, but had failed to take steps to reduce the amount of time she spent making coffee.

''This case is a key reminder to employers that they have a duty of care to their staff in ensuring there is a safe system of work in place,'' Mr Finlay said.

''Christine was a loyal employee who loved her job.

''She was held in high regard by her customers. However, because of her injury she is now no longer able to work in any sort of role,'' he said.

Mrs D'Amico was awarded $593,700 in compensation.