Workers Compensation

I was injured while having a seizure at work. Can I make a compensation claim?

Not all workplace injuries happen because of accidents or negligence. TGB lawyer Alexandra Harris explains your compensation rights if you are injured at work while having a seizure.

Making a workers compensation claim is not always clear-cut. What if you have an epileptic fit at work and break your ankle? Do you have a claim for workers compensation even though your epilepsy has nothing to do with your employment?

The recent decision of Ward v State of SA (Department for Primary Industries and Regions SA (PIRSA) [2016] SAET 28 considered this very scenario.

Mr Ward was a scientific researcher electro-fishing on the River Murray, as part of his employment, when he suffered an epileptic seizure. He was on the bow of the boat when the seizure took hold, and his workmates had to quickly pull him to safety, away from the water’s edge. In doing so, Mr Ward broke his ankle. He lodged a workers compensation claim, which was rejected on the basis that his employment had nothing to do with his injury.

The compensating authority was of the view they should not have to pay compensation for an injury that resulted from epilepsy – a non-work related condition.  Mr Ward challenged this at the South Australian Employment Tribunal and was ultimately successful in having his claim accepted.

In accordance with Section 7(2)(a) of the Return to Work Act, a work injury is only compensable if:

  • The injury arises out of, or in the course of, employment and;
  • the employment was a significant contributing cause of the injury.

Injured workers should know there can be multiple contributing causes to an injury. One can be very important, yet another that is less important can still be a significant contributing cause, making compensation possible.

The South Australian Employment Tribunal has interpreted the phrase “significant contributing cause” to require an evaluative judgment that is not straight forward. Ultimately, it requires all facts surrounding the work injury to be considered and analysed carefully.

The Tribunal came to the conclusion that as Mr Ward broke his ankle whilst undertaking his work duties, the injury clearly arose “out of, or in the course of, employment”.

As employment must be “a significant contributing cause” of the injury for a claim to be compensable, Mr Ward also needed to satisfy this aspect of the legislation to have his claim accepted.

The main question was whether the epileptic fit barred Mr Ward from compensation? Did his employment significantly contribute to his broken ankle? The Judge closely considered all facts surrounding the injury, and in particular highlighted the following points:

  • The seizure was not violent or spasmodic;
  • The broken ankle was unlikely to have been caused by the seizure, but by Mr Ward being moved by his co-workers off the side of the boat and onto the safety of the boat’s deck.

In this case, Mr Ward’s employment obviously did not cause his seizure, however it did position him at the front of a boat in the River Murray – a very unsafe place to be if you experience a medical emergency, as Mr Ward did.

It was therefore held that employment was “a significant contributing factor” to Mr Ward’s injury and, as a result, he was entitled to compensation.

It is clear from this recent decision that whether an injury is compensable under the Return to Work Act is not always straightforward. Every situation and compensation claim turns on its individual facts.

Tindall Gask Bentley lawyers are experts in workers compensation claims. This is a complex area of law with many shades of grey that need defining. If you think you have a claim, or have had a claim rejected, our team can help you. Call your nearest office today or register your details here and we’ll be in touch soon.