CAN YOU GET WORKERS COMPENSATION FOR ALCOHOLISM?
When a man turned to alcohol to self-medicate after suffering a workplace injury, his general health deteriorated. When he then made a workers compensation claim, the question was whether there was a link between his alcohol consumption and his work-related injury.
Background – workers compensation (WorkCover) and alcohol intake
Since 1974, the man had worked for the family butcher business, which his father had started. When the father died, the man and his brother Bob took over as directors of the business. In addition to his director and management responsibilities, the man also continued to work as a butcher in the business.
The man’s main duties as General Manager were overseeing the manufacturing, quality, orders and deliveries of the business. He was also responsible for work health and safety, including workers compensation claims.
Over time, the man developed a poor view of the workers compensation system (previously known as WorkCover claims). In particular, there was one claim made by an employee of the business that he believed was fraudulent. He became fixated on all aspects of that claim and believed that the workers compensation insurer should not have accepted the claim.
His fixation on the claim had a terrible impact on his health and eventually in 2001 he was diagnosed with major depression, stress and irritable bowel injuries. He made his own workers compensation claim which was rejected by the insurer because he was a director in the business rather than a “worker.”
After he disputed this decision in the old Workers Compensation Tribunal (WCT), it was set aside by the insurer on acknowledgement that the man was found to be a working director rather than a director of the business. However, it was unfortunate that the man’s representative apparently never communicated this outcome to the man and for years the man believed that his claim was rejected.
The man continued to work, albeit on modified duties. He continued to handle workers compensation claims. He had developed an obsessional hatred of people trying to “rort” the system and even though he was very distressed by his own claim being rejected (or so he thought), he didn’t want to stop dealing with other employee claims.
He began drinking alcohol more and more heavily, especially to help him sleep and to cope with work-related stress. Eventually, he was drinking between half and one bottle of spirits per day. He became agitated and withdrawn at work and was becoming decreasingly productive. Eventually, it was obvious to Bob (who was the other director in the business) that he was drinking heavily and was often drunk at work.
When the man tried to go “cold turkey”, he collapsed at work, suffering from seizures. A neurologist later confirmed that the seizures were due to alcohol withdrawal. Brain scans showed significant damage and deterioration, including dead brain tissue, due to alcohol consumption. He also struggled to walk and could no longer drive.
He began drinking alcohol again. A few years later, he had managed to reduce his alcohol intake but the effects of the brain damage remained. In 2010, he had another seizure. By this time, he was unable to work at all. The business continued to pay him until 2013.
In 2011, Bob found out from a radio programme that the man may be eligible for workers compensation. Bob made some enquiries and discovered that the claim had in fact been accepted. Because so much time had passed, a new workers compensation claim had to be lodged. The man lodged the new claim but the insurer rejected it.
The man disputed this decision, making an application to the South Australian Employment Tribunal (SAET). SAET is the successor of the WCT.
SAET had to consider:
- When and why the man started drinking alcohol.
- Whether the man’s self-medication with alcohol arose because of his workplace injuries.
- Whether his injuries arose from his work as a director of the business or in the course of his employment in the business as General Manager.
SAET decided that on the medical evidence and the man’s evidence, the man’s work (and in particular his workplace health and safety duties) was the reason that he started drinking heavily and so this could have caused his brain injuries.
It found that the man was stuck in a “vicious cycle” that led him to self-medicate because of his workplace injuries. This meant that he couldn’t properly evaluate how appropriate it was to be drinking so heavily and so the heavy alcohol consumption could be considered to have arisen due to his injuries.
It said that in his role of General Manager the man handled the workers compensation claims. Because this was part of his employment, the man fit the definition of “worker” (under the old legislation, which applied at the time the man was injured).
Because of this, it found that the man was totally incapacitated for work and was entitled to compensation. It also said that even though the man’s claim was many years after the injuries occurred, the man could still be compensated because both he and his brother genuinely believed for many years that the injuries were not compensable.
What does it mean?
The man’s initial injuries started a chain of events that led to “full blown” alcoholism.
The case demonstrates how serious any kind of workplace injury can be, and especially one that leaves a person in a vulnerable psychological state.
It also shows that even someone with managerial responsibilities can claim workers compensation. In this case, SAET had to draw a fine line between director duties and employee duties but the evidence was clear enough.
The case shows how important it is to take seriously psychological workplace injuries. Careful and thorough communication between lawyer and client must be established from the outset of the legal relationship. It is tragic that in this case the man was unaware of the outcome of his first dispute in the WCT.
Websters Lawyers has an outstanding team of workers compensation lawyers who are experienced in carefully managing claims every step of the way. Effective and ongoing client communication is one of the hallmarks of our great service. If you have a workers compensation issue, contact ustoday for a free first interview.
FREE FIRST INTERVIEW
NO WIN NO FEE
LOCAL LAWYERS FOR LOCAL NEEDS
GET THE RIGHT LAWYER FIRST
Having such a short time frame I was very impressed with the outcome made by [my solicitor]. Excellent and timely manner
Very professional mannerism and overall great outcome was delivered by Websters Lawyers.
West Ryde NSW
Helpful, explained fully, patient, excellent service.
Patient and helpful in explaining the process.
Call Websters Lawyers for a most professional and friendly service. All understanding with [my solicitors] and the reception staff. Thank you so much.
Making my will was effortless on my part, with everything explained clearly. Well done to all.
Great service, professional, explains things clearly, definitely recommend Websters Lawyers.
Patient, professional, good communication about procedures and probable outcomes.
Thank you for all your work over the course of the case. You [both] were always very approachable and I appreciated your understanding and professionalism in all areas.
All in all my experience was great. Thank you for your time and expertise.
My matter was dealt with efficiently and was explained in an understandable language. A pleasant experience.
Practical and very helpful. Reasons and explanations given where needed
I stumbled across Websters in the Yellow Pages and I rang, explained my situation and immediately they took my case on. Greatly appreciate their services.
The service from Websters Lawyers was outstanding. [My solicitor] was caring, had patience and was very professional. Wonderful personality.
[My solicitor] made everything so simple to understand. [The receptionist] was wicked too, would recommend them anytime. Level of entire service was outstanding.
I had dealings with Websters over 20 years ago. They were my first choice when I recently needed legal advice. Both legal and office staff were professional, courteous and accessible at all times. Everything was explained up front in a clear and concise manner. I would not hesitate to recommend their services.
It has truly been a pleasure communicating with you throughout the process. I really appreciate your patient and speedy replies to my questions and requests. You were always able to provide an easily understood response and this helped me deal with the process. Your friendly and positive manner encouraged me to seek your advice.
Battery Hill QLD
[My lawyer's] service was prompt and efficient with all questions explained clearly with all our requests carried out within the laws. Overall service was very satisfactory.
[My lawyer] was excellent.
Excellent service. Professional. Clear advice and instructions. Prompt actions. Overall 10/10!
Overall, I was happy with my outcome and my lawyer, would definitely recommend [my lawyer].
[My solicitor] was excellent at helping us through preparing our wills which were particularly challenging as they involved assets in multiple countries. She was professional and knowledgeable and spent time tailoring the wills to our needs.
[My solicitor] was very helpful, respectful and polite. She made sure I understood the process and documentation of our wills.
Professional. Smooth Transaction.
I found the whole experience from Receptionist to Solicitor excellent. They completely put us at our ease.
This was a new experience for us and didn’t have a clue what to do. [Our solicitor] on our first visit put us at ease, explained what will happen, pointed out there was a strong case. [Our solicitor] was genuine in her approach, kept us well informed, explained actions several times with patience and understanding. Overall very happy with the service we received.
[My lawyer] was very reassuring in her approach to my case. I felt that every possibility in terms of evidence to provide and possible outcomes were explained to me, The result of the case was the best possible outcome I could have expected.
With no previous dealing with the criminal justice system, [our solicitor] gave us excellent advice and guided us through a nightmare to achieve a just and correct outcome. [Our lawyer] was both forthright and compassionate in her handling of our case.
[My lawyer] explained all the legal terms in language I could understand – she was very easy to talk to.
Cameron, Munno Para
I felt confident knowing my matter was in good hands. Very professional!
Shravan, Christie Downs
Initial phone call was fantastic and the role of an executor was fully explained.
Penny, Henley Beach
The service I received was efficient and promptly finalised. The solicitor clearly explained the details and I was happy with how easy it was.
Dale, Fairview Park
[My lawyer] was exactly the lawyer I needed in a serious matter. The outcome was as predicted which was a fantastic result. I received prompt professional and personal service at all times. Capable and supportive in a very stressful period.
Jason, Munno Para West
I had any of my concerns answered to my satisfaction and understanding.
Valda, Ingle Farm
[My lawyer] is an excellent professional lawyer who assisted in achieving a great positive outcome/result. I sincerely thank you and your great staff for your assistance and guidance throughout my claim. Would highly recommend [my lawyer], staff and Websters Lawyers. Kept fully informed and guided, professionally throughout the matter.
Our work was dealt with very efficiently and speedily. Our lawyer was very professional, at the same time as being approachable. Communication was great.
My experience with Websters Lawyers was far beyond what I expected. From the moment I spoke to [my lawyer] she made me feel very comfortable and eased my stress. In my case I had a court appearance the day before we were scheduled to fly to Spain, Considering my first appointment with her was only 2 weeks before the court hearing, she was able to obtain the police statement and thoroughly work on my case within that limited time frame. She was very knowledgeable, understanding and confident which greatly relieved so much pressure from me and my family. At court, she explained everything thoroughly and advised me of all the possible outcomes. Price, service and result, very highly recommended. Thank you Websters Lawyers.
Rafael, Davoren Park
I have high expectations and they were met. Websters service was swift, courteous, professional and met the agreed budget. I will recommend Websters to my family, friends and colleagues. Thank you.
I would recommend Websters Lawyers, especially for [my lawyer's] dedication and exemplary attitude and advice. She is the epitome of a good lawyer. The service was impeccable.
Pamela, West Lakes
[My lawyer] was very professional and I was made comfortable to understand.
I was very pleased with the end result and how well [my lawyer] conducted herself.
Jesse, Morphett Vale
[My lawyer] has been very prompt , reliable and provided a high level of communication.
My experience at Websters was very positive. The stress was taken from me and I could not be happier with the outcome. [My lawyer] at Websters was professional, personable, available and caring. Thank you for making the experience stress free.
Magda, Holden Hill
Found my lawyer upfront and reliable – I would highly recommend Websters Lawyers.
Lee, Evanston Park
Top bunch of solicitors and admin staff. Very friendly and to the point service.
Bradley, Hallett Cove
Websters Lawyers were very professional in their service, I would be happy to recommend them.
Carole, Tea Tree Gully
We would not hesitate in recommending Websters for any legal matter. They are professional and courteous at all times and call back when they say they will.
David and Dianne, Lockleys
I fully recommend Websters Lawyers. This was the 3rd time myself & my family have used Websters Lawyers. In these stressful times we have found them to answer and guide us through the process needed to accomplish the legal requirements in a timely and courteous manner.
Solid, to the point, no hustle. Highly recommend.
George, Windsor Gardens