Beaven v Wagner Industrial Services

The plaintiff was employed as a truck driver for a concrete supplier. It was accepted that the plaintiff was an experienced driver. He had been trained in pre‑start checks of the truck and to report any defects to the maintenance department for repair.

On the date of the accident, the plaintiff tried to open the passenger door but it was jammed. The driver went through the other door and tried to lift a pin to unlock the passenger door. When that failed, he reached across the seat and pulled the pin with the vice grips. The pin suddenly came loose, causing the plaintiff to fall back on the seat and injure himself.

It was accepted that the company had a system of regular maintenance of its vehicles. The plaintiff was an experienced driver and was aware of the need to report any malfunctions. It was accepted that the plaintiff would be expected to try to fix the door pin himself at first but the employer argued that he should have reported the defect rather than use the vice grips.

The trial judge found in favour of the employer on the basis that the plaintiff had failed to prove causation. In particular, Her Honour relied upon the recent Court of Appeal decision in Perrins v Woolworths (2015) QCA 207, that the employer’s negligent act or omission was not the cause of the injury, or that the suggested corrective measure would have prevented the incident.

The trial judge found that it was foreseeable that the plaintiff would have tried to fix the jammed door but it was not foreseeable that he would have used vice grips after being unsuccessful with his hands. The employer would have expected that the plaintiff would report the defective door at that stage. The plaintiff’s suggestion of further training would not have prevented the incident because it would be unrealistic to expect training to include the specific scenario which arose because it was an isolated incident. Furthermore, the trial judge found that even more general training would not have changed the result as the plaintiff would not be expected to have behaved any differently given the comprehensive training which he had already received.

This is the latest in a series of decisions following the Court of Appeal decision in Perrins v Woolworths. In Perrins case, the Court of Appeal noted that mere proof of a deficiency will not automatically result in success for a plaintiff and that the plaintiff still bears the onus of showing that the negligent act or omission was directly causative of the injury.


Sean Sullivan

Sean has practised insurance law for over 30 years, with a focus on employment liability insurance litigation.

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