National wholesale butcher Top Cut Foods has been ordered to pay almost $585,000 after a judge found its negligence led to a workplace assault which gave one of its employees PTSD.
In a judgment delivered June 27, District Court Judge David Kent QC found Top Cut had failed to heed multiple warning signs prior to a physical confrontation between two of its workers, Jamie Colwell and Warren Parks.
“[On] the information available to the employer … the assault was foreseeable; further, the separation of the two was a relatively simple and inexpensive step to avoid it,” Judge Kent wrote.
After the second verbal confrontation between Parks and Colwell, which occurred in January 2014, Parks punched Colwell numerous times in the back of the head and face before being physically restrained.
Colwell, who was working as a knife hand/butcher at Top Food’s Burleigh Heads food processing plant at the time, accused the firm of negligence and breach of contract for failing to address the situation despite two formal warnings to management and two subsequent verbal altercations.
“The plaintiff’s [Colwell’s] evidence was that Mr Parks was at all times a very intimidating person and was apparently at pains to present himself as such. He spoke of his violent past including the fact that he had previously killed someone, and that at previous work places he had always knocked someone out,” Judge Kent said.
While the judge dismissed the claims accusing Park of physical assault at each one of his prior workplaces as well as murder, he acknowledged that Parks had served 3.5 years in a UK prison for “doing grievous bodily harm with intent to do grievous bodily harm, racially motivated and three counts of assault occasioning bodily harm”.
In the witness box during the case’s four-day hearing in March, Parks admitted he physically assaulted Colwell first. However, he said that Colwell was rude and confrontational with him prior to the incident.
“In re-examination [Parks] said that he felt the employer had not done the right thing by he and the other workers in not moving him away from the plaintiff [Colwell], in that he, at the time and place he was in his life, was a danger,” the judge wrote.
During the trial, the court heard how the attack had left Colwell with “serious psychiatric injury” which left him “completely unable to do paid work” since last seeing his psychiatrist in 2015.
In determining the $585,000 penalty, Judge Kent took into account the future economic losses caused by this post-traumatic stress disorder as well as lost wages, interest, medical expenses and WorkCover benefits.
The parties still have to be heard with regards to costs.
Shine Lawyers represented Colwell while BT Lawyers represented Top Cut Foods.
The case is Colwell v Top Cut Foods Pty Ltd ACN 010 650 281.
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