ACT News

Public servant loses sex injury compo claim

The Canberra public servant denied compensation for injuries sustained in a "vigorous" sex session six years ago says she has moved on.

The High Court ruled in Canberra on Wednesday that the woman, hurt while having sex in a country motel while on a work trip, was not entitled to compensation from the federal workplace insurer Comcare because her injuries were not related to her employment.

The court found that the bureaucrat's department did not induce or require her to have sex with a local man in Nowra in November 2007 and the injuries sustained during the hook-up were not ''compensable''. But after four years before the courts, the case still divides legal opinion with two of the High Court judges disagreeing with the majority of their colleagues and arguing the woman, whose name has been suppressed by the courts, should have been paid out.

The case sent shockwaves through the public sector and has big implications for bosses around Australia who send employees on work trips and for workers who travel as part of their jobs.

The woman's lawyer, Nigel Gabbedy of Pappas J Attorneys, told The Canberra Times on Wednesday that his client, who is now in her early

40s, was getting on with her life.


''She's moved on,'' Mr Gabbedy said. ''It's been a long time since she was injured and although she's disappointed with the way things have turned out, she's been back at work almost since the beginning of the claim and she's moved on.''

The federal government said the High Court's decision to deny compensation to the public servant was a ''victory for commonsense''.

Public Service Minister Eric Abetz welcomed the decision, saying the landmark judgment would ensure a more ''sensible'' approach to managing claims in the future.

''The High Court has taken a very welcome commonsense approach that will see a more sensible approach prevail in the future,'' Senator Abetz said.

''This decision protects the currency of work place safety which was in serious danger of being trivialised by this claim.''

Lawyers for Comcare argued throughout the four-year legal saga that the public servant should not get taxpayer-funded compensation as result of a ''personal choice'' to have sex while on the work trip.

But the woman's barrister argued the public service, having sent the woman to the NSW country town, was liable for her welfare, even if she was injured while having sex.

The bureaucrat suffered cuts to her nose and mouth as well as ''psychological injuries'' when a glass light fitting was pulled from the wall of the motel room during the tryst.

The legal saga has rumbled on since 2009, through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the Federal Court and now the High Court. The case has been dubbed ''scheme significant'' by Comcare bosses who are trying to stem a rising tide of compensation claims by public sector workers.

Appearing for the federal government at the High Court hearing in August, Commonwealth Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson, SC, told six judges that the sex activity was ''in every sense a personal choice''.

The public servant's previous appeal to the Federal Court was successful when the lower court decided the federal government, having sent the woman on the trip, was liable for everything that happened to her there, provided she was not engaging in misconduct.

But Comcare's appeal to Australia's highest court argued that the injury was sustained during an interval or interlude to the woman's official duties and was not ''compensable''.

In a judgment handed down in Canberra on Wednesday morning, the High Court upheld Comcare's appeal in a 4-2 majority decision.