The Workplace Gas Explosion
A man worked as a caretaker and night watchman at Unity Grammar College in south-west Sydney. The College had a faulty Liquefied Petroleum Gas Tank that was leaking into a storeroom. The man entered the storeroom and turned on a light. The room exploded. The man was set on fire and, as a result, suffered severe injuries.
The Compensation Lawsuit
The College argued that the man may have inadvertently contributed to the explosion by lighting a cigarette. However, it was held that there was insufficient evidence to prove this. The cigarette most likely did not exist. Further, even if the man had lit a cigarette, he would not have caused the explosion. This is because, the man had no way of knowing about the leaking gas. As such, it was either the light switch or fluorescent light fittings that had caused the explosion.
The man sued the College, the gas company and the parties responsible for the installation and maintenance of the gas. However, the issue for the Court was determining who had caused the explosion, as none of the parties performed work which could be considered the proximate cause. Experts provided evidence to determine the reasons for the faulty tank, leaking gas and eventual explosion.
Workplace Injury Compensation Assessment
The man received a 71% whole person impairment assessment for disfigurement and physical limitations resulting from burn injuries, and scarring of his body and face. He suffered hearing loss of 10% whole person impairment assessment. The man suffered Chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Major Depression and received a 26% whole person impairment assessment for his psychiatric injuries alone. His whole person impairment mathematically exceeded 100 percent. His injuries were catastrophic.
Workplace Compensation Awarded
The Court found that the College was negligent . The College had breached its duty to exercise reasonable care to provide a safe workplace. The Court said that the College owed the man a non-delegable duty of care. The College could have been aware of the defect in the gas installation by hiring a gas fitter to look at it.
The other parties found liable included:
- The principal contractor for the faulty installation;
- The company that constructed a new gas line after the initial installation for failing to check the initial installation; and
- the gas company for supplying the gas.
The man received $3,203,270.00 in civil liability damages and $1,046,974.00 in work injury damages.
This case highlights the principle of joint and several liability in negligence, as well as, the complicated nature of cases where something goes wrong and there are many parties to blame. As a result, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the law of negligence in order to correctly identify the relevant parties.