A festival goer suffered a brain injury when stage lighting collapsed onto her tent on New Year’s Day in January 2008 has sued the Queensland Folk Federation and the Woodford Festival organisation in the Brisbane District Court.
The stagers, promoters and organisers admitted liability for the unfortunate accident but vigorously contested the extent of the injury – a drama that occupied the court with seven days of testimony.
Elizabeth Findlay claimed to have been so disabled by the head strike that her resulting brain injury meant she could not perform “complex tasks” like “making a cup of coffee”. Neither was she able to cook “because of the complexity of the task”.
Her $303k ask – also for neck injuries and emotional distress – was disputed with what the Folk people called a long-standing psychological disorder.
Although denied on the basis that items were posted and then removed by other people, Judge David Reid found that Findlay operated a Facebook account that depicted a “much more sociable and enjoyable existence” than she asserted to be the case.
She was found to have personally removed the posts when struck with the realisation that they could be used to undermine her compensation claim.
In the judge’s view, her operation of a Facebook account not only demonstrated a cognitive ability beyond that she claimed she had been left as a result of the lighting box head hit, but also dishonesty.
“I think the plaintiff was dishonest in giving the answers she did to questions about Facebook”, reasoned Judge Reid.
“Even if the product of her psychiatric illness, her answers indicate the unreliability of her evidence which in any case undermines the worth of medical reports that rely on her reliability and honesty.”
The judge had the advantage of the record of an in-person interview between the claimant and a Centrelink officer in 2007.
That interview – conducted in support of Findlay’s pursuit of a disability services pension – recorded observations of a significant psychological condition well before the Woodford outing.
Although “very vulnerable at the time of the Woodford incident” the mental disorder suffered as a result by Findlay was only “transiently aggravated” by up until a motor vehicle accident that occurred only five months later in May 2008.
Damages were “generously” allowed at just $5000 for “a minor head injury with some emotional decompensation of a very temporary nature”, plus $1000 for medical expenses.