A nurse undergoing aggressive behaviour training to assist in the management of violent patients has alleged her course leader should have taught his “shin stomp” drill in parts, to reduce risk to trainees.
The 3-day course in February 2010, had been arranged by the Logan Hospital mental health unit where nurse Joan Munro was then employed. According to Joan, on the afternoon of the third-day instructor Howell demonstrated the technique upon another instructor, by lifting his foot to stamp on his opponent’s shin.
He then re-placed his foot down and slid it backwards and away, “without any instruction about which foot to use or how the feet were to be placed”. After three others had attempted the manoeuvre, Joan stood in front of a stand-in assailant with her right foot forward, brought her left foot around and struck the ‘assailant’s’ shin with her left foot, placed that foot back on the ground “and then began to slide back her right foot when she felt it stick to the mat”.
She fell backwards, putting out her left arm to break the fall, resulting in a wrist injury. WorkCover refused liability for the accident saying it was a normal consequence of any physical activity that happened despite all care having been taken.
Joan consulted Richard Turner – a nationally accredited expert in self-defence training – who told her if the training should have been done by safer means. Turner testified to Brisbane’s District Court that the technique should have been broken up into its component parts for instruction.
Parts for participants practice separately and gain confidence before the combined move was demonstrated for the trainees to drill. “It was inappropriate to have the students performing the whole manoeuvre straight off,” he swore.
In support, he produced a static training manual, which supported the contention to demonstrate and train the move in three basic components, remarkably described as “the beginning, the middle, and the end.”
In the absence of evidence independent of Mr Howell to confirm that it was reasonable for an instructor to combine instruction in the stamp technique with instruction in the moving backwards technique, the court was persuaded to accept Turner’s view.
“Moving backwards is a process which does necessarily involve some risk,” ruled His Honour. “Those risks could have been minimised by splitting up the technique and teaching the different parts separately before they were combined”.
The court drew a distinction between Joan’s case and that of a similar self-defence training accident decided by the Court of Appeal only weeks earlier, after Joan’s trial had concluded. In that case (Weaver v Endeavour Foundation  QSC 93) the trainee had also been injured performing a “back steps” manoeuvre. But in that case, the claimant had performed the manoeuvre several times before and was demonstrating her proficiency to her instructor. One of her feet appeared to catch on the carpet, and she fell backwards.
Ms Weaver’s lawsuit failed because the court found she had been given proper instructions – “to perform only at a pace with which she was comfortable”. Thus that fall was the fault of Ms Weaver, not her instructor.
For Joan however, it was expert Turner who swung the result in her favour. Her trainer had clearly not taken “reasonable care to minimise risks to which the employee was exposed”. Judgment was awarded for $60,000, the sum agreed between the parties prior to trial, as representing Joan’s financial loss.