Further to our article of yesterday entitled “Reform needed for work injured people” which highlights WorkCover’s gross inadequacies such as depriving injured workers who suffer from pain syndromes of adequate multidisciplinary CBT-orientated pain treatment until they are un-salvageable, here is a fairly recent (2009) legal case case demonstrating to what length (pain and resources) injured workers must go to have their pain treatment approved. In this particular case, Australia Post was found liable to pay for an injured worker’s pain treatment by means of insertion of a spinal cord stimulator, with the AAT (Administrative Appeals Tribunal) ruling the injured worker had “no reasonable alternative” but to undertake this procedure.
Injured worker trial pain treatment allowed – AAT
Background of the case
In July 2001, a postal worker suffered back pain after lifting an unlabelled express post mail bag, estimated to weigh 35 kg. Following his injury the injured worker was put on modified duties, however his pain did not subside and he also suffered from numbness down his left side. Australia Post accepted liability for the injury.
The injured worker eventually underwent surgery on 3 separate occasions in an attempt to stop the ‘severe, disabling’ pain. After each operation the injured worker returned to work on light duties, and managed to work his way back to full-time hours, however the pain continued.
The claim for the insertion of a spinal cord stimulator
A claim for the insertion of a spinal cord stimulator — surgery involving electrodes being placed into the injured worker’s spine — was however (and of course) denied.
The treatment cost was estimated to be in excess of $50,000.
The poor injured sod had no option but to take the matter all the way to court! He most likely crawled to court!
The Hearing: the injured worker’s pain should NOT continue
Thankfully, the AAT [Senior Member John Handley] found the trial pain treatment procedure (insertion of a spinal cord stimulator) was reasonable. He stated that:
‘I am satisfied that all reasonable treatment to date has been undertaken by the applicant and he is left with no reasonable alternative but to undertake the procedure.He should not be expected to continue to endure the pain that has distressed him for many years and which has caused an emotional reaction precipitating a suicide attempt in late 2008.’
AAT senior member Handley also found that, “although the extent of Australia Post’s monetary liability is (at the time) still not known, that doesn’t preclude a judgment in the (injured) worker’s favour”
‘The extent of its monetary liability will become known only after the outcome of the first stage of the process of stimulation is known.On the evidence of Dr Thomas, it was critical that a decision on liability with respect to the device should be made. What will then follow is the discussions between the appropriate practitioners and the applicant (worker) to decide the timing of undertaking the procedure.I am satisfied that the spinal cord stimulation is a reasonable medical and like expense to which the respondent (employer) is liable.’
You can read the full text of the legal case here: Bunyi and Australian Postal Corporation  AATA 655 (1 September 2009)