July 29, 2013

A claim for compensation that occupied the Brisbane District Court for five days has resulted in the claimant being judged as having “grossly exaggerated” her injuries.

Most damaging to the claim was clandestine video footage of 40-yr-old Lovissa Williams conducting massage on a private investigator – interrupted by a visit from police – at her Murrumba Downs studio.
In April 2008 – the day after it had been purchased from Kallangur Aldi – Williams had been sitting on an inflatable gym ball, studying. It suddenly burst, tumbling her to the floor.

Aldi admitted its product was defective and all that was in contest was the extent of any injury and what compensation was fair.

For her part Williams claimed the fall damaged her lumbar spine, crushed her right ulna nerve, brought on complex regional pain syndrome and resulted in anxiety and depression.

She also asserted idiopathic symptoms, including sensory disturbance to light touch that according to medico-legal specialist Greg Gillett was “just not anatomical”. In his view there was no “musculoskeletal pathological process that could explain [any of] her symptom complex.”

As it happens, neighbours had called the constabulary to report the not-so-secret snoop lurking near Williams’ home earlier on the day the undercover video was captured.

On their arrival mid-treatment, the investigator retired outside with the police officers to justify his lawful intentions and then returned to the massage table – with what manner of explanation to Williams remains unexplained in the judgment – so she could finish his bodywork.

The full significance of this somewhat comical occurrence may not have dawned upon Williams – who lays claim to an IQ of 134 – until sometime later.

Even before they viewed the undercover video, orthopaedists Greg Gillett, David Gilpin and Andrew Patten; neurologists Nicole Lindberg and Noel Saines and anaesthetist Frederick Walden all concluded there was no ongoing physical injury and certainly no evidence of the disabling ulna nerve and CRPS conditions she contended for.

Their position only firmed upon viewing the surveillance footage, all largely agreeing with Gillett that the tape exposed absolutely normal function, no fatigue and no outward signs of pain during the strenuous one hour rub.

According to Patten, the tape demonstrated “absolutely no functional impediment at all” and “no avoidance behaviour” of the affected limb.

Williams’ court room portrayal – “bent over, taking small steps, trembling” – was entirely at odds in His Honour’s opinion, with her video presentation as fully functional. Such disparity could not be explained merely by the “unpleasant to say the least” demands of “the adversarial process that is our system of justice”.

The evidence of those specialists who did attest to some incapacity – neurologist Frank Tomlinson, psychiatrist Andrew Byth and therapist Lesley Stephenson – could not be accepted as its authority wholly “depended upon the [un]truthfulness of Ms Williams” and was undermined as a result. In a measure of mercy to the embattled claimant, the court acknowledged the occurrence of a minor soft tissue injury to the right upper arm that resolved after about five months.

For this, the total damages award including 5 months loss of income, was $27,000.

Williams v Aldi Pty Ltd [2013] QDC 141 Brisbane Samios DCJ 26/06/2013

Categories: Personal Injury , Litigation & Law Practice

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