Acting Justice Margaret Sidis. Photo: Natalie Grono
A disability support worker has been awarded more than $500,000 in damages by the ACT Supreme Court after she injured her back while lifting a container of files out of a work car.
The ruling came despite a finding by Acting Justice Margaret Sidis that Sonia Jean Sutherland had given evidence that was untrue and defence evidence that showed Ms Sutherland had used a chainsaw and collected wood.
Ms Sutherland sued her employer, Quest Employment Solutions, and the ACT government after being injured in November 2004.
The then 35-year-old had been hired to the Department of Disability Services and said her injury had occurred as she lifted a container out of the boot of a car.
In her judgment, Acting Justice Sidis said that Ms Sutherland had given evidence that she had been trained in lifting and handling disabled patients, but not in lifting techniques generally. The need to lean forward, pull the container towards the rear of the boot and lift it over the rim of the boot had made it impossible for Ms Sutherland to use recommended lifting techniques, such as bending her knees.
Ms Sutherland gave evidence that in the 12 months after the accident, she required assistance from her children and a friend for up to 16 hours a day. After the first year she still required daily assistance because she would sometimes need help dressing and could not stand or sit for long periods of time.
''The evidence was not true,'' Acting Justice Sidis wrote.
Surveillance of Ms Sutherland demonstrated that she retained considerable capacity for activity from as early as March 2005, including entering and exiting her car, carrying purchases and bending to place them in the car.
''In April, May and July 2010 various activities were observed,'' Acting Justice Sidis wrote. ''The plaintiff pushed her 96-kilogram mother in a wheelchair, she folded and loaded her mother's walking frame into the rear of her vehicle without signs of discomfort or disability.
''The plaintiff agreed that she collected firewood in winter months after the incident, used a chainsaw to cut the wood, load the wood into her vehicle and stack it when she brought it home.
''She agreed that she collected and stacked wood in the same fashion for her friend.''
Acting Justice Sidis found that much of Ms Sutherland's evidence could not be accepted at face value and that she had overstated the claimed consequences of her injury.
She found that the injury had caused symptoms that included severe pain and that Ms Sutherland still intermittently suffered symptoms from a damaged nerve root.
Both defendants were found to have been negligent in failing to undertake an assessment of the risk of lifting the container and in implementing appropriate precautions to minimise risk.
The defendants were ordered to pay Ms Sutherland $507,223.34, plus costs of the proceedings as assessed or agreed.