Case Note: Whitley v Aldi Stores [2017] QDC 50

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Last week the District Court of Queensland in Brisbane handed down a decision in Whitley v Aldi Stores [2017] QDC 50 which concerned a checkout worker who allegedly suffered a left wrist ganglion injury whilst scanning a 4kg bag of dog food.

The Facts

On Easter Saturday 2013, Mrs Nicola Whitley was working at a checkout register at an Aldi store in North Lakes, Queensland. Her claim was that as she was pulling a 4kg bag of dry dog food (the bag) across the conveyor belt for scanning she felt a sharp pain in her left wrist. As a result of this incident Mrs Whitley suffered a left wrist ganglion injury (a type of soft tissue cyst).

Mrs Whitley brought a personal injuries claim against Aldi in negligence, breach of duty of care and breach of her employment contract. She claimed damages in the sum of $332,794.29 plus interest.

The Decision

Mrs Whitley alleged that the bag of dog food was not on Aldi’s Price Look-Up lists (PLU) which meant that she had to manually scan the bag. The PLU list was designed to enable operators like Mrs Whitley to scan heavy items by entering a code rather than manually lifting them up to the scanner. This ground of liability failed because Mrs Whitley’s injury was not caused by an absence of a PLU code but rather the alleged defective manual handling system by Aldi.

The paddle technique involved operators placing a hand behind the product on the conveyor belt and pushing it towards the scanner. Mrs Whitley said that she didn’t use the technique because the bag was too heavy to be pushed across and she could not reach to the far end of the bag. No evidence was run to this effect. When asked whether the size of the step up meant that the bag could not pass across along the conveyor belt, Mrs Whitley said that the ‘step up had a very strong edge’ and that if you did not lift and drag the bag along, the bag could have easily split open. The Court rejected this assertion because expert evidence was that the step up was only about 0.5mm high and this would not have stopped the bag from moving across the conveyor belt. Thus both the paddle technique and step up grounds were also unsuccessful.

Therefore Mrs Whitley’s claim against Aldi in negligence was not made out.

In any event the Court went on to consider issues of causation and quantum. The Court accepted the evidence given by experts that Mrs Whitley’s ganglion injury could have been sustained by natural occurrence, the workplace incident or an earlier wrist fracture. Therefore on the balance of probabilities Mrs Whitley could not establish that her ganglion injury had been sustained as a result of the workplace incident. If Mrs Whitley had been able to establish liability the Court would have awarded her a total sum of $14,465.00.

Lessons

In this case the conveyor belt could have transferred the heavy bag to the scanner without Mrs Whitley’s lifting of the bag in her own strength. Therefore her injury could not be said to have been caused by a breach of Aldi’s duty of care. In addition there were a number of instances where she could have sustained her ganglion injury. She had a previous wrist fracture and expert evidence was given that she could have sustained the injury from a natural occurrence. Therefore it was difficult for her to establish on the balance of probabilities that the injury had been caused by the workplace incident.

For more information regarding injuries sustained in the workplace

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