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25 Sep 13
Will further changes be made to Queensland's workers' compensation scheme?

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The question of whether the Queensland government will make further changes to its workers’ compensation scheme remains unanswered.  In May 2013 the Finance and Administration Committee (FAC) chaired by Mr Michael Crandon MP, released its report after a 12 month enquiry into the operation of Queensland’s workers’ compensation scheme.

Background
The Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland (CCIQ) and the Australian Industry Group (AI Group) continue to petition the State Government to reform the current workers’ compensation scheme.

The industry groups argue reform is required in the following areas:

  • journey claims, and
  • access to common law damages for minor injuries.

Journey claims
Journey claims arise where a person is injured travelling to or from work.

The FAC report found that it would be inappropriate to deprive certain workers of access to workers’ compensation benefits for these claims, where claim costs do not impact upon premiums paid by employers and where the workers’ compensation insurer will often have a right of recovery against a compulsory third party (CTP) insurer. 

If changes are made to the legislation to abolish journey claims then some of the likely impacts may include:

  • an increase in the number of compulsory third party claims
  • the loss of death benefits for dependants of workers killed in journey claims, and
  • equality between all classes of individuals injured in motor accidents.  That is, an individual will not receive benefits for being at fault simply because they are a worker in circumstances where if they were not a worker, no benefits would otherwise be payable.

The Courier Mail reported on 23 September 2013 that a briefing note sent to Attorney General Mr Jarrod Bleijie in April and obtained by Saturday’s Courier Mail, revealed that WorkCover had costed three options in relation to abolishing journey claims.  These models apparently included scrapping journey plans for all workers, scrapping journey claims for all workers except police and scrapping journey claims for all workers except police and emergency service workers.

Access to common law damages
Queensland and the ACT are the only two jurisdictions that provide unfettered access to common law damages.  This means that at the end of a statutory workers’ compensation claim, a worker who is assessed as having 0% impairment can still make a claim for common law damages.

The report by the FAC however, recommended against the introduction of thresholds for access to common law damages on the basis that the impact of the 2010 reforms to the legislation had not been fully realised.  The question of whether a threshold should be introduced is not a new concept and was considered as part of a review of the scheme in 1996. 

If thresholds were introduced to the scheme, the potential consequences are likely to be as follows:

  • a reduction in premium costs, common law claim numbers, and total overall payments for common law damages by workers’ compensation insurers
  • an increase in average damages paid to workers, as claims for the most serious injuries are made
  • an increase in claim management costs for workers’ compensation insurers, with insurers dealing with disputes as to whether an injury falls below the relevant threshold
  • significantly increased workloads for Q-COMP and its medical assessment tribunals, and
  • the unequal treatment of workers, with some having access to damages and others missing out.

It will be interesting to see whether the State Government introduces changes in light of the findings of the FAC report.

Assistance for your business
At McCullough Robertson we understand that workers’ compensation claims can have a significant impact upon business. 

Considerable resources are often invested in assisting a worker to return to work and major impacts can be experienced by businesses when premiums are increased. 

It is important to keep abreast of developments in the law such as this.  If you are a self-insurer or employer and need advice about workers’ compensation issues, please contact our team.

Focus covers legal and technical issues in a general way. It is not designed to express opinions on specific cases. Focus is intended for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice. Further advice should be obtained before taking action on any issue dealt with in this publication.

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