A former ActewAGL electrician has been awarded nearly $1.3 million in compensation after his career was cut short by back and hip injuries he suffered at work in Canberra.
Mitchell Roberson sued the electricity provider in the ACT Supreme Court over three injuries he said he had sustained on the job between 2013 and 2018.
He alleged that ActewAGL had been negligent and in breach of its statutory duties to him on each occasion.
The company defended the claims by disputing its liability, the cause of the injuries and whether Mr Roberson had negligently contributed to them, and the extent of the damage.
On Wednesday, Acting Justice Robert Crowe ordered ActewAGL to pay $1,297,229 in relation to two of the injuries, taking into account general damages, Mr Roberson's lost earning capacity and other factors.
More than $1.1 million of that sum related to an incident at Canberra Airport in December 2017.
Mr Roberson was hurt on that occasion while manually lifting a 400kg switchboard with three other men.
He had to perform the task while straddling a cable trench, and described feeling "a very sharp pain" in his lower back at the time.
Following that incident, he spent most of his Christmas holidays lying on the couch or in bed as he endured "eight or nine out of 10" pain.
A barrister for ActewAGL suggested in court that Mr Roberson had actually hurt himself while picking up his daughter the day after the airport incident.
But Acting Justice Crowe ultimately found that the pain Mr Roberson experienced then was merely an aggravation of an injury suffered while lifting the switchboard.
The judge said he was satisfied that ActewAGL had been negligent in failing to provide appropriate lifting equipment, which would have avoided the need for Mr Roberson to undertake "unsafe" work.
"The system of work which required four men to lift such a large weight, particularly in the awkward conditions created by the presence of the trench was, it seems to me, extremely hazardous," he said.
In another incident, some 10 months later, Mr Roberson was tasked with bolting components to the inside of similarly heavy switchboard at the Australian National University.
While straddling the top of the object in an awkward crouching position, he "experienced significant stabbing pain in his left hip and in the lower back". This time, he rated the pain as nine or 10 out of 10.
Mr Roberson said this job would have been made easier by a scissor lift, but he was not offered any opportunity to use one.
Acting Justice Crowe found that failure to provide such equipment placed ActewAGL in breach of the Work Health and Safety Regulation.
As a result of Mr Roberson's injuries, he was unable to continue working as an electrician or perform any manual labour.
In awarding damages, Acting Justice Crowe said Mr Roberson would likely experience "a significant degree of pain and disability ... for the rest of his life".
The judge said Mr Roberson would have been entitled to a further $158,086 for the earliest of the three injuries, suffered in 2013, had his claim in relation to that succeeded.
However, the man did not file his lawsuit within three years of the relevant event, meaning that claim must fail.