A Brisbane interior design company has been sued in Queensland’s District Court in connection with the unloading of its furniture consignment by a removalist injured in the process at a Sydney residence.
Glenn Morton was directed by designer John Glynn to help move a desk from one position to another in the study of the inner city condominium when walking backwards, he bumped against an obstacle, stumbled and twisted his right knee.
He claimed personal injury damages for only being able to gain casual sales associate work since, against the Glynn’s company – The Design House – and his employer, Ivor Fritz Removals.
That Morton was owed some duty of care by both organisations, during the December 2008 operation, was clear. The court’s job was to determine the extent of their responsibility and decide if the injury had been caused by any breach on their part.
As regards Fritz, the court’s judgment serves as a useful handbook on safe work expectations for the furniture removal industry.
The senior mover usually walks items backwards with his offsider at the opposite end of the load, walking forwards. The senior mover checks the path for obstacles.
What Morton’s lawyers contended was that the offsider should also have been required to check for obstacles and then cross-check with his colleague.
This additional measure would probably have prevented Morton’s injury, but “such a system would be more time-consuming and would interfere with one strength of the current system, having a clear rule about who is in charge of a particular move. It could also make each of the employees less careful than they would otherwise be ….because each would to some extent be relying on the other and could well, as a result, take less care personally”.
Likewise, a “generalised warning to look carefully to see that the path was clear” for each move, would be “ritualistic” and therefore unlikely to have positive safety consequences.
“No reasonable person in the position of the employer… would have instituted a more complex and rigorous system of work”, and hence Morton’s case against the moving company and its insurer, WorkCover Queensland, failed.
Was Design House of Paddington at fault?
Neither John Glynn nor his wife Mary – who was unpacking and laying out soft furnishings – were doing any more than indicating where the furniture was to be placed or repositioned to. They were “directing what was to be done, rather than the manner of doing it. Mr Glynn was not taking it upon himself to determine how the work was to be done.”
Thus Morton’s case was dismissed on all grounds and he was ordered to pay the legal costs of the other parties for the three-day trial. Damages were assessed on a precautionary basis, ie in the event that Morton successfully appeals, at $156k.
Interestingly for lawyers, the court applied – for determination of liability and assessment of damages in both cases – Queensland law for the claim against Fritz and WorkCover; and NSW law as against the Gylnns.