Injured South Australian workers will be entitled to hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of additional compensation following a High Court ruling.

Key points:

  • The case centres on multiple injuries which may arise from the same cause 
  • The ruling will broaden how ReturnToWorkSA assesses compensation for multiple injuries
  • There are concerns it will lead to increased insurance premiums for businesses

The man at the centre of the complex legal case, Shane Summerfield, said he hoped it would make it easier for others to get adequate payouts.

The former truck driver was left permanently injured after he was pushed from behind and fell onto concrete at his workplace in 2016.

His injuries included a broken leg and he also had to undergo a hip replacement.

ReturnToWorkSA has been challenging court rulings that have repeatedly upheld Mr Summerfield’s claim for further compensation for complications from his original injuries, including his limp and back pain.

Former truck driver Shane Summerfield was assaulted at work in 2016, leaving him with permanent injuries. (ABC News)

ReturnToWorkSA argued it was not obliged to compensate him for those impairments, but the full court of the Supreme Court ruled in Mr Summerfield’s favour, effectively entitling him to an additional $65,000 in compensation.

Lawyers for ReturnToWorkSA then took their appeal all the way to the High Court, which has now knocked them back.

Mr Summerfield’s lawyer Kathleen Chambers described the ruling as significant.

“We’re talking about people that will never work again and will have a need for lifetime care, lifetime medical expenses.

“They (ReturnToWorkSA) penny pinch whenever they can and if they can reduce entitlements they will.”

Mr Summerfield said it was a difficult legal process.

“It’s very frustrating. I was just lucky that Kathleen was a very, very good lawyer who got me through it all and got us to where we are now.”

“I was tempted to give up several times but Kathleen said, ‘No, we’ll hang in there, you’ll be right.’

“I’m pleased for all the other people that will come after me. Hopefully things will be a bit easier for them.”

Lawyer Kathleen Chambers, who represented Mr Summerfield, says the ruling is significant for injured workers seeking compensation. (ABC News)

The case centres on multiple injuries which may arise from the same cause.

The legal ruling means the way injuries and multiple impairments are assessed for payouts is now much broader than what ReturnToWorkSA had previously deemed.

Business SA chief executive Martin Haese said he was “disappointed” and “highly concerned” about the implications of the ruling.

“This ruling means that average ReturnToWorkSA premiums are likely to skyrocket as the scheme will need to fund almost $1.1 billion in additional liabilities, plus an additional $100 million per annum,” he said.

Business SA chief executive Martin Haese is concerned the ruling will see ReturnToWorkSA premiums skyrocket. (ABC News)

Mr Haese expressed concern wage on-costs would increase for businesses and they could struggle to compete against interstate and international firms.

“Workers too will lose out from today’s decision, with future employment opportunities in South Australia being significantly compromised by this unacceptable new cost to doing business,” Mr Haese said.

“South Australia cannot afford to be at a competitive disadvantage and this ruling will put us well behind other states in attracting new business to South Australia.”

Treasurer Rob Lucas also said the ruling would lead to significant job losses.

“What it will mean is potentially the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in South Australia as employers have to pay significantly higher premiums,” he said.

“The next parliament will have to consider whether it’s prepared to strike a better balance between the rights of workers and the ability for employers to be able to employ more and more people.”

Business SA is lobbying for parliament to change the law to limit the cost to employers.