Brisbane Youth Service Inc v Beven  QCA 211
List member Richard Douglas QC appeared for the appellant.
The appellant was a provider of support services. The respondent was employed by the appellant as a family support worker. She was sexually assaulted by her client (T) at a meeting in an office. The assault brought back memories of sexual abuse as a child, and she came to suffer from a major depressive disorder, among other issues. This led to a breakdown of her marriage. She brought a claim against the appellant alleging negligence, and was awarded damages.
The appellant appealed on the grounds that the Trial Judge failed to have regard to a number of matters. These matters included that there was no history of physical assaults, the respondent’s long history as a social worker and access to resources and support from her employer, and that the respondent had prior knowledge of the client’s difficult behaviour.
Sofronoff P (Gotterson JA agreeing), discussed Koehler v Cerebos (Australia) Ltd (2005) 222 CLR 44 where the plurality observed that an employee’s acceptance of a position permits the employer to assume that the employee considers that he or she is able to do the job. The appellant here argued that the risks of working with T were inherent in the respondent’s occupation as a social worker. His Honour considered that some of the argument hinted at the old plea of volens. The justices distinguished Koehler in the sense that there the Plaintiff’s agreement was to do the actual work which caused her injury. They also concluded that the fact the risks of working as a social worker may be obvious does not negate the employer’s responsibility to prevent those risks from arising. Sofronoff P and Gotterson JA dismissed the appeal.
McMurdo JA would have upheld the appeal. He said that taking into account the public nature of the meeting, and that the respondent had a history of sexual abuse which the appellant did not know about, it was not reasonably foreseeable by the appellant that the respondent would suffer psychiatric damage at such a meeting.
See the judgment here.