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Written by Peter Carter

June 24, 2012

Management at Couran Cove resort was excused for failing to act earlier to fire a lunatic tradesman who seriously injured his 60 yr old co-worker by beating him with a wooden stake, before chasing him down in a van.
Peter Markan – sentenced to four years imprisonment for the assault – had clubbed Alberto Serra in a racialist rant, less than two months into Serra’s service at the South Stradbroke island getaway.

With damages agreed by WorkCover at $200,000, at the contest in the four-day trial was whether the employer ought to have reprimanded or dismissed the crazy colleague prior to the 60 blow belting in July 2007. Serra was a Portuguese trained electrical engineering mechanic from Mozambique with nearly 40 years specialised trade experience and was not the first employee to suffer the wrath of the mad electrician.

But although Serra’s predecessor also had found him “generally angry and difficult to deal with” and had left because he was no longer “comfortable working at the defendant’s resort”, there was no evidence of actual or threatened physical violence from the villain.

The plaintiff’s case was built on a string of incidents thru June and early July which – his lawyers argued – should have raised alarms with the resort manager to the prospect of a physical confrontation. Unfortunately for the plaintiff, he gave such a confusing account of  the assailant’s alleged attempt to tamper with electrical equipment, that his honour became “sceptical of the truth or reliability of significant parts of the plaintiff’s story”.

And in the employer’s favour, it had promptly counselled the attacker after becoming aware of racist behaviour directed at the plaintiff just 10 days before the thumping. Although in hindsight his supervisor ought not to have charged the plaintiff with resolving a contentious issue relating to the Markan’s computer password, the evidence did not “go anywhere near establishing that was the reason” for the assault.

With nothing to establish any clear grounds for summary dismissal before the assault, the resort could not be held accountable for the rogue’s attack when it in fact occurred. Markan was summarily dismissed immediately on its occurrence but he even challenged that. For this and other reasons – including because the attacker lived on the island and could have made his way to the resort regardless of his employment – the court was not satisfied that dismissal or suspension would have prevented the incident.

Alberto Serra had endured life-threatening conditions as a soldier in the bitter turmoil of the Mozambique and Angolan conflicts of the 1970s. Similar to that of Timor L’Este, with which Australians are much more familiar, the wars all occurred at the same time and were originated by the same political events in Portugal. Those in Africa were on a much larger scale.

Becoming the victim of a violent co-worker assault – half a lifetime and half a world away in a tranquil island backwater – was not a life event one would have anticipated, when dodging death in a war zone.

Serra v Couran Cove Management P/L [2012] QSC 130  Brisbane Douglas J 31/05/2012

Categories: Personal Injury , Litigation & Law Practice

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