Mozzie bite injury caused by 'unsatisfactory' work accommodation

Mozzie bite injury caused by

By Maria Karlsson-Lilas on 15 May 2018 An employer has been unsuccessful in multiple challenges to a finding that its employee sustained a compensable injury from mosquito bites. The woman was bitten while staying in unsatisfactory accommodation in a remote work location.

Teaching placement in Oodnadatta

A 59-year-old woman was employed as a lecturer in hairdressing by the Department for Technical and Further Education in South Australia.

She went on a 10-week teaching placement to Oodnadatta, where for the last week she was accommodated in a metal cabin without air conditioning. Her last day of teaching, 26 October 2015, was particularly hot, and when she returned to the cabin she opened the windows to get some relief.

She was bitten by mosquitoes that night and, when she returned to Adelaide on 28 October 2015, she was suffering from a high fever, diarrhoea, painful joints and vomiting. She had contracted inflammatory polyarthritis, and subsequently also developed a psychiatric condition and became unable to work.

When the lecturer sought workers compensation according to the Return to Work Act 2014 (SA), the evidence showed she had been at the remote location for the sole purpose of carrying out her duties as an employee and that the employer had organised and paid for the unsatisfactory accommodation. The medical evidence confirmed the connection between the mosquito bites and her physical symptoms.

The SA Employment Tribunal accepted that the lecturer’s physical injury had been sustained in the course of employment and that her psychiatric incapacity had arisen from the physical injury.

Was employment a significant contributing cause?

The employer unsuccessfully applied for a review, and then appealed to a Full Bench. While the employer accepted that the lecturer had sustained the injury in the course of employment, it disputed that the employment had been ‘a significant contributing cause’, as required by s7(2) of the Return to Work Act 2014 (SA).

The employer’s argument was that the contributing cause had not been sufficiently significant, namely that ‘there was nothing to show there was a greater or lesser chance of the respondent being bitten by a disease-carrying mosquito whilst, for example, watching television at home’.

The Full Bench did not accept this view but found that, ‘But for the employment, this injury would not have occurred at the time and in the way in which it did’.

The employer then appealed to the Full Court of the Supreme Court of SA – the question of law being how to interpret s7(2) of the Act.

Justice Parker considered that the deputy president had correctly interpreted the dual aspects of the section, and confirmed that testing what was a ‘significant contributing cause’ required an evaluative judgment by the fact-finder.

Justice Parker also said that: ‘While the reasoning of the Full Bench, and also that of the deputy president, might have been more clearly and directly stated, I am satisfied that the Full Bench adopted the correct construction of the words ‘the employment was a significant contributing cause of the injury’ in s7(2)(a)’.

Chief Justice Kourakis and Justice Blue agreed with Justice Parker, and the employer’s appeal was dismissed.

Read the judgment

The State of South Australia v Roberts [2018] SASCFC 25 (17 April 2018)


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