Written by Peter CarterNovember 17, 2013
Lujpco Karanfilov was deployed alone at GE Money on Logan Rd, Stones Corner when he confronted two thugs menacing workers departing the premises at the 9 pm end of their shift in July 2007.
His offsider – escorting one of the homeward-bound staff to the nearby Woolloongabba rail when accosted with demands for money – had radioed in an alarm to be on watch for them. Karanfilov confronted the muggers at the staircase entry to the GE Money building and pushed off lunges from the more viscous of the two.
Although met with volleys of punches to his body, he managed to avoid serious physical injury. The aggressive thug left with shouts of “I’m going to come back and shoot you. Your dead, man.”
The offsider was late in returning, having decided – against standard operations procedures – to stay on the station platform until the young female employee had boarded her city-train home. Fast forward to the Brisbane Supreme Court contest of the guard’s injury lawsuit against his employer Chubb, GE Money and “facilities manager” Downer Engineering Pty Ltd.
Karanfilov asked for compensation for a post-traumatic stress disorder caused by his abandonment while outnumbered during the 15 minute melee and from the violent threats to his life. The events were accepted as the cause of future occupational and domestic impairment, assessed at $800k. At issue though, was the extent of the duties owed by each of the three defendants and their contractual arrangements among one another.
A subsidiary of the eponymous US conglomerate, GE Money had in 2003 engaged Chubb – whose lineage to its UK parent parallels that of GE – to provide patrol, escort and front desk services at its six Australian locations.
Their agreement specified there be two escort officers with one “to maintain a static guard presence in the building whilst the second officer will continue with the escort service.” GE’s facility management agreement with Downer Engineering required the latter to provide “risk maintenance, contractor safety and security supervision.”
The court accepted that each defendant owed duties to Karanfilov not to expose him to an unreasonable risk of injury but found that such duties were “necessarily confined”. Against Chubb, the court ruled that its 2006 risk assessments “reflected poorly upon the company” as they had understated the extent of the risk to staff at night, posed by the location of the premises between the railway station and the busy retail precinct at Stones Corner.
It also reasoned, in retrospect, the incident would probably have been avoided if Karanfilov had at all times been accompanied by another security officer. Close, but not yet close enough for our hero plaintiff.
The provision of another security officer was not, so ruled the court, something that a reasonable employer in Chubb’s position ought necessarily have implemented because the employment of a third officer “would not have substantially removed the relevant risk.”
Chubb’s duty “did not extend to preventing the plaintiff being exposed to the risk of any physical harm. He was employed as security officer. Inevitably, his duties would require him to come into contact with some individuals who were unfriendly and possibly dangerous. It is unrealistic to suppose that any of the defendants could have eliminated the risk of any encounter with such a person.”
His Honour also thought that employment of third officer for the 9 pm escort period “would not have been practicable” because Chubb and GE Money would have been put to the expense and inconvenience of hiring such an officer for probably at least four hours, rather than just the one hour or so of the actual higher risk period.
Such expense and inconvenience were not warranted having regard to the “magnitude of risk and the degree of probability of its occurrence.” Not even the evidence of an expert security consultant called to assist the plaintiff’s case, persuaded the court otherwise.
The finding that a third security officer would not have necessarily alleviated the risk, had the effect of excusing all defendants of all liability. If it wasn’t a reasonable thing for Chubb – as the recognised security expert – to have done, then it wasn’t something that GE should have reasonably asked Chubb to provide or for Downer to have reasonably recommended.
Such findings were made notwithstanding the logging of many other similar incidents since 2003 nearby the building and the specification in the GE-Chubb agreement that GE was responsible for the “ongoing development of operating procedures.”
And despite Downer’s overarching security role, the court found that it had not been “engaged to prepare some assessment of the safety of Chubb’s employees or to recommend amendments” to security arrangements.
The guard’s claim was dismissed and he ordered to pay the legal costs of GE Money, Downer and Chubb.