Recently, a Victorian teacher driven to the brink by unruly students including one who made a flamethrower in class has been awarded around $1.3 million, including $300,000 in general damages, $337,090 in past loss of earnings, $550,000 in damages for future economic loss and $70,000 interest on lost wages. It has been suggested that this case could open the way for other employees to sue state governments for damages under the negligence (common) law.
Peter Doulis damages case could prompt more workplace claims
Lexi Metherell reported this story on Tuesday, September 16 | The World Today ABC
ELEANOR HALL: A $1.3 million payout to a Victorian teacher could open the way for other employees to sue state governments for damages.
Peter Doulis sued the Victorian Government over being made to teach some of Werribee College’s worst students.
As Lexi Metherell reports.
LEXI METHERELL: From 2000 to 2004, Peter Doulis taught some of Werribee Secondary College’s most difficult students. Eventually he suffered a nervous breakdown and had to stop working. He went on to sue the Victorian Government.
The court heard his students were regularly violent, and one even made a flamethrower in class.
Supreme Court Justice Timothy Ginnane ruled the school breached its duty of care to Mr Doulis by failing to ease the pressure he was under.
Today (16 Sept) costs were finalised, and the 48-year-old has been award nearly $1.3 million in damages, loss of past and future earnings, and interest.
Employment lawyer and barrister Tim Donaghey says there are significant implications from the case.
TIM DONAGHEY: The implications of this case go to the question of negligence in a workplace environment and injuries flowing from that negligence.
LEXI METHERELL: Tim Donaghey says it may change the way employees seek to be compensated for bullying in future.
TIM DONAGHEY: It is partly a focusing of the mind, that is, litigants who have been subject to severe pressure might now think of suing, and in a real sense, in a legal sense that we call the authority of a particular case to persuade a judge, this will be a legal precedent.
LEXI METHERELL: And so, do you think that the tide is turning in a way against employers who persist with employees being in situations where they are under extreme pressure?
TIM DONAGHEY: Well, it’s not clear because of the narrow facts of Mr Doulis, whether this is likely to flow on a short distance to very few other employees, or to a great many employees.
But, as I’ve already said, I think it’s already very limited in its factual substrata or its factual background.
What I think is more likely to happen is that this will be something that employees consider in future when perhaps considering bullying claims, as you mentioned, and they might then instead look to whether they have a demonstrable psychological injury, involving lack of sleep or loss of appetite or other symptoms that Mr Doulis’s presented, and then look to the common law courts instead of, say, the Fair Work Commission. (note wee could add workcover as well)
LEXI METHERELL: So could other teachers now sue for stress at work?
The Australian Education Union’s Victorian Branch deputy president, Justin Mullaly, says to avoid that, schools must have the capacity to support their teachers.
JUSTIN MULLALY: Look, I think one of the things that we need to take out of the decision at the Supreme Court is that governments, in relation to government schools, need to make sure that the resources are available to principals and to school staff so that the health and safety of school staff is attended to in the context of dealing, at times, with situations where it’s certainly challenging in our classrooms.
LEXI METHERELL: And are those resources available generally?
JUSTIN MULLALY: Look, in Victoria, we’ve got a situation that sees each Victorian government school student underfunded by almost $2,000 compared to the national average every year, and we’ve seen in Victoria over the last four years more than $600 million cut out of public schools.
So, it’s certainly the case that we are in a situation where we do not have the necessary resources, principals don’t have the resources to deploy in their schools so that staff can be able to do the work they need with the students that they teach.
ELEANOR HALL: That’s the Australian Education Union’s Justin Mullaly ending Lexi Metherell’s report.