Judge awards truckie $225k
A TRUCK driver has been awarded $225,000 compensation after suffering head and spinal injuries when he fell from his prime mover on the Bruce Hwy near Gympie.
Heinz Johann Schmidt, 60, had driven from Brisbane to Gladstone and was on the return trip south in heavy rain when his dashboard indicated a brake issue at Gunalda.
He rang his boss Steve Sanders, who is based in Rockhampton, and was told to check the air lines which involved him climbing down from the cabin at least three times while the wind was blowing the rain sideways.
The last time he tried to get out of the vehicle, Mr Schmidt slipped from the top step and fell on to the roadway about 3am on January 15, 2008.
Mr Schmidt began a career in driving in 1995, even owning his own truck company for some time, but he told Brisbane District Court he never received any instructions about getting in and out of the Volvo truck he had been driving.
He described slipping off the first step as he pivoted his foot on it to exit back first. "It was so slippery," he said. "When I twisted my foot I lost all grip on that step."
Mr Schmidt said it was known in the trucking industry that three points of contact were important when exiting a truck but he also missed gripping a handle as he slipped.
The court heard a United Kingdom study found slips and falls accounted for more than 27% of reported cases causing lost workdays, second highest behind crashes.
"The underlying causes of falls from vehicles associated with slip and trip hazards on steps and floors," it read.
The court heard Mr Sanders had since attached stickers to all trucks stating the importance of three points of contact and had implemented a training policy for entering and existing cabins.
Judge Marshall Irwin found that, on the balance of probabilities, the truck company had breached its duty of care by failing to provided a safe access system and was negligent by not providing safeguards to avert potential harm.
He ordered Mr Sanders to pay Mr Schmidt $225,000, clear of a WorkCover Queensland refund, for personal injuries and consequential losses.
Judge Irwin said falling from trucks was an ongoing problem despite manufacturer efforts to improve designs.
He said the Sanders' truck company should have recognised there would be times when emergencies, or some other cause, would distract truck drivers from giving attention to their own safety.
"There existed a distinct possibility that a driver who was hurrying to exit a cabin in wet conditions would fail to take sufficient care to avoid injuring himself," he said. "Inadvertence can also arise from an employee not having been given proper instructions as to how to safely exit a truck in these circumstances."
Judge Irwin said the company should have trained its drivers in safe vehicle access and enforced it.
He said a reasonable employer would also have reduced the risk by increasing slip resistance on the steps used to access the cabin which could have been achieved "easily, inexpensively and without inconvenience".