Government must urgently intervene in workplace injury court matter: SA-BEST warns

20 June 2022

The State Government must immediately intervene in a workplace injury matter currently before the courts if it is genuine in its intent to protect the rights of injured workers in South Australia, SA-BEST warned today. 

SA-BEST MLC and Attorney General spokesperson, Connie Bonaros, warned if the government failed to immediately step in the impact on people injured in the workplace would be catastrophic. 

Connie revealed the matter involved a case currently before the Court of Appeal (the Williams case) in which Return to Work SA is challenging the correctness of the “Summerfield decision”. 

She said the “clear implication” of the action taken by Return to Work SA is that the government agency appears to be confident the Summerfield case will be overturned. 

“The Premier needs to come clean – he either wants to protect injured workers or he doesn’t, he can’t have it both ways,” Connie said. 

“If the government’s bona fides are in protecting the Summerfield determination, why has Return to Work challenged the judgement,” she asked 

“And not only has it challenged the appeal, it has also requested the matter be heard by five judges. 

“If the government is genuine in its intent to protect workers, it would withdraw both those applications immediately. 

“The Williams case has set off alarm bells across the legal fraternity – not to mention workers who have been injured at work and currently have claims before the courts. 

“The action by Return to Work SA in this case is entirely inconsistent with the government’s proposed changes to the Return to Work legislation. 

“There are grave fears the government is telling the public one thing, and acting the totally opposite way.” 

The State Government introduced proposed new legislation earlier this month seeking to close a perceived loophole in the state’s Return to Work Act by ensuring workers’ injuries are treated individually rather than cumulatively. 

The proposed laws were introduced following a landmark legal judgement in the case of Mr Shane Summerfield, a truck driver who was left permanently injured after a workplace accident six years ago. 

Mr Summerfield was granted additional compensation for complications from his original injuries - including an ongoing limp and back pain. 

The Williams matter involves a worker who sustained injuries to his knees due to repetitive climbing up and down a ladder at a specific point in time whilst carrying out his work duties.  

The Judge found the same cause injured both Mr Williams’ right and left knees and determined to combine the impairments to reach a final percentage in deciding his final compensation.  

The Full Bench decided the judge was wrong to have combined the impairments.  

Mr Williams is appealing the Full Bench finding because his lawyers argue the same set of circumstances caused both his left and right knee injuries - and hence the same cause. 

Return to Work SA is challenging the appeal. 

In Parliament last week, Connie asked the Industrial Relations Minister, Kyam Maher, a series of questions on the matter. They included: 

  • Has the Minister intervened in the Williams case to date - or intend to do so? 
  • If not, have there been any discussions with Return To Work about withdrawing the challenge to the correctness of Summerfield? 
  • If not, what will the ramifications be to the operation of a scheme where the government says it is embracing the correctness of Summerfield? 
  • Does he accept that if the government doesn’t intervene, that action is inconsistent with what the government is telling the public about embracing Summerfield? 
  • Does he accept - in the event the Court of Appeal overturns or otherwise waters down the Summerfield decision - the increase of the Whole Person Impairment (WPI) increase to 35% will result in catastrophically bad outcomes for injured workers? 
  • And does he accept the government discharged a Bill in Parliament yesterday on the basis that you intend to maintain the Summerfield decision? 

“The Premier and Minister owe it to injured workers – and the taxpayers of South Australia – to reveal what actions the government intends taking in this matter,” Connie said. 

“There is growing concern the government is publicly telling people it has listened and has modified its contentious workers’ compensation reforms with new laws that protect both workers and businesses - but behind the scenes is acting in the entirely opposite way,” she said. 

“At risk are some of our most vulnerable workers – they deserve to be treated honestly and transparently by this government. 

“The fear is they’re not. 

“The Minister’s response to my questions in Parliament last week have sent further shockwaves throughout the legal fraternity. 

“If Return to Work SA is successful with its counter, the impact of that decision in combination with the government’s proposed new Bill will be absolutely catastrophic for anyone injured in the workplace.”

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