Written by Peter CarterMarch 22, 2016
A CTP insurer has been ordered to pay substantial injury damages to a pot smoker whose de-motivational habit led to him quit a promising public service post following a February 2010 motorbike accident which literally saw his face smashed in.
Jeffrey Schneider, underwent 10 weeks of intensive home-based rehabilitation for facial, spinal, wrist, hand, knee and psychiatric injuries following multiple surgeries at Rockhampton and Ipswich hospitals.
He returned to his work in the payroll section of Queensland Health in May 2010 and gained a promotion soon after. Despite an “excellent recovery” from his physical injuries, his work performance declined and he resigned in October 2011.
He has not worked since.
RACQ admitted fault on the part of its insured driver but fiercely contested his damages ask – close to $1 million – by colouring him as a hippie destined by his own lifestyle choices to a welfare-dependent future.
Schneider – 22-yrs-old at the date of his Rockhampton crash – readily conceded he was a user before (but more so after) the accident.
Justice Duncan McMeekin had to determine whether his resignation from secure employment was brought about by his injuries and “near-death experience”; or rather was from “disillusionment and disinterest in work”.
An above-average student who took a university-level subject in Grade 12 and began an Information Technology degree, “he found greater meaning in his surfing” and espoused “what most people did by working 40 hours a week for most of their life was a waste of time and simply serving the interest of corrupt societal institutions.”
His Honour had no difficulty in finding against that background that “cannabis use is almost certainly a contributor to his decision to resign,” cruelling any chance of the $203k claimed for income lost over 4 years since quitting.
But if he could establish that an accident-related psychological injury was stopping any further return to work, he might yet be awarded loss of future earnings compensation.
Psychiatrist John Flanagan concluded Schneider was suffering from a worsening anxiety disorder due to his severe multiple injuries. Those views were supported by psychologists Dr Maureen Field, Glenys Conrade and Bruce Acutt as well as neurosurgeon Terry Coyne.
Colleague John Chalk agreed the accident contributed to his resulting adjustment disorder but thought its connection to the accident “was less than clear”.
RACQ sought to exploit Dr Chalk’s doubts, contending the former smoking habit was the more likely major cause of his resulting condition.
Its case on this point was firmly slapped down and Dr Chalk’s view as to causation was ruled irrelevant.
Fatally, RACQ had called no evidence as to the relative contribution of each competing factor on his incapacity to work nor that the period and extent of marijuana consumption might continue to have an adverse effect nearly 3 years after ending smoking.
“The issue is not whether there are numerous causes for the ongoing presentation but rather whether the subject accident was a material contributing cause,” ruled his honour.
He accepted the psychiatric disorder did flow from the accident as a result of which “RACQ has an evidential burden to untangle the competing causes”.
Its failure to clear that hurdle handed Schneider the future loss of earning capacity argument even though his witness box performance was poor.
Numerous discrepancies and an inability to recall details of events and statements made to doctors would ordinarily have been enough to brand him as a fraudster.
Justice McMeekin though concluded him to be honest, if not encumbered by a cannabis tainted memory.
General damages for his severe injuries were awarded at just $45k. His ask of $417k for impaired earning capacity in the future was cut down to $325k and his care claim of $54k was rejected because the court was not satisfied that it met the six hours per week for six months threshold.
RACQ must, therefore, stump up with a total of $448k.
The court rejected any suggestion RACQ should be held responsible for any consequences of Schneider’s increased cannabis uptake following the trauma.