Negligence in the Workplace – The Foreseeability of Risk and its Significance

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Case note: Boon v Summs of Qld Pty Ltd [2016] QCA 38

On 26 February 2016 the Supreme Court of Queensland awarded damages of $215,286.11 after the appeal of an employee who had been injured a work as a result of negligent behaviour was allowed.

This case arose after an unfortunate incident in 2011 at a construction site in Redbank Plains. Timothy Summerfeldt, in the employ of Summs of Qld Pty Ltd (respondent), had been using a Leatherman knife to peel and eat an orange, whilst crouched on a grassy area near a frequently traversed walkway. It was during this short recess that another employee, Joshua Boom (appellant), walked past Summerfeldt at the same moment that Summerfeldt stood from his crouched position, unintentionally stabbing the appellant in the hand with the Leatherman knife that he had been holding.

The appellant’s injuries required immediate surgery and his inability to partake in various activities subsequent to the accident caused him to develop a depressive disorder. The appellant proceeded to bring an action in negligence against the respondent for the personal injury caused to him.

For the respondent to be found negligent, the primary judge viewed that Boon had to establish, on the balance of probabilities, that a reasonable person in the position of Summerfeldt would have foreseen that using a Leatherman knife to peel an orange during lunch would have involved a risk of injury to a class of persons nearby, including Boon.

In finding that Summerfeldt’s actions had not been negligent, the primary judged viewed that “it was [Boon] who came towards the knife which he did not see”. Summerfeldt did not move towards Boon, rather he simply rose on the spot. Further, it was Boon who was in the better position to see Summerfeldt prior to the collision. The primary judge viewed that the risk of someone coming into contact with the knife whilst it was being used to peel an orange was very low, such that it could not be said, that a reasonable person in Summerfeldt’s position would have acted any differently to avoid the risk of injury.

It was argued on appeal that the conduct in question was not the action of using a knife to peel an orange, rather, it was the respondent’s movement to an upright stance whilst holding the knife that created a risk of injury, and that this risk was not insignificant.

It was further reasoned that Summerfeldt’s failure to retract his blade, or even look to see if any persons were in his close vicinity before standing meant that his behaviour was not that of a reasonable person. It was ultimately held that Summerfeldt had acted negligently, which in turned caused the appellants injuries.

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