Housekeeper injured at The Lodge exaggerates symptoms, but still wins compensation
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Housekeeper injured at The Lodge exaggerates symptoms, but still wins compensation

A former housekeeper who hurt her back working at the prime minister's official Canberra residence will continue to receive workers' compensation, despite a tribunal finding she exaggerates her symptoms.

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal found Shiree Power still suffered physical and psychological injury and ordered Comcare to pay her compensation and for her continued medical treatment.

A former housekeeper at the The Lodge will continue to receive workers' compensation.

A former housekeeper at the The Lodge will continue to receive workers' compensation. Credit:

AAT senior member James Popple, in a judgment published this week, also told Comcare to reconsider whether she should receive compensation for incapacity to work.

Ms Power worked as a casual "house attendant" at The Lodge between March 23 and November 9, 2010.

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In October, Ms Power injured her back while making a bed and then reinjured herself while cleaning a bathroom.

Comcare accepted liability and granted her workers' compensation for her lumbar sprain. But the insurer refused her subsequent bid for permanent impairment and non-economic loss.

In 2013, Comcare cut her payments after it decided she no longer suffered from the effects of the compensable injury.

Last year, Ms Power made a further application after a psychiatrist diagnosed her with an adjustment disorder, featuring anxiety and depressed mood, as a result of her lower-back injury.

Comcare denied liability as it had not been satisfied the back injury significantly contributed to the psychological condition.

Ms Power appealed to the tribunal, which found she had degenerative changes to discs in her spine before the injury, which had been asymptomatic. The injury aggravated that spinal degeneration.

"The effects of such an injury would normally have reduced or ceased within months of the injury, but those effects could continue for years," Dr Popple said.

"Ms Power exaggerates her symptoms. Nonetheless ... it is possible that she still continues to suffer the effects of the compensable injury."

Video surveillance, commissioned by Comcare and played at the hearing, showed Ms Power walking, sitting, driving, shopping, getting items out of her car and other menial tasks.

But Dr Popple found the video did not show anything "inconsistent with her still suffering, at that time, from the effects of the compensable injury".

"Ms Power can be seen on the video moving in a way that suggests that she was protecting her back," he wrote.

"Ms Power exaggerates her symptoms and her evidence is not entirely reliable. But … Comcare bears a practical onus of demonstrating that the effects of the compensable injury have ceased. Comcare has not discharged that onus."

Michael Inman is a courts reporter for The Canberra Times

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