Bullied Victorian teacher awarded 1.3 million – negligence law

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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.

Negligence is very old law, but it tends not to be applied except in those kind of slip and fall cases of negligence where, say a cleaning product has been left out in a super market. This is taking that kind of law into the realm of workplace injury.

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.



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7 Responses to “Bullied Victorian teacher awarded 1.3 million – negligence law”

  1. Yes he has had a hard time of it, and I feel for him. But has He taken into consideration in how much harder it is going to be for an anybody worker who is not qualified who is injured at work just to get a minimum amount of a wage and help if they are injured. I would pay that much to get rid of my disability just to go back to work. How many other injured workers that have been stuck on the work cover treadmill for years suffering from severe depression, because of the way they have been treated would ever see any money in compensation for the same thing. Sorry but I think this is amount of money is beyond a joke. Has anyone sat down and actually worked out how much he would of made in a lifetime. As I said this just makes things harder for the average injured worker .

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    • @Grumpy Pa
      Just on a simple calculation, Teachers earn in excess of 50k a year, if he would have had 20 years of working life left that would give him earnings of 1m, plus the 10 years he hasn’t worked is another 500k…. Out of the settlement he has to pay some legals, repay any income received from Centrelink and/or income protection ad Work Cover payments received.
      I think he has a fair outcome… This has also set a precedent that could benefit us all…

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  2. This is what suing for strict negligence is and I admire this man for the courage he has to do this. Many people do not know that before Workers Comp, this is what happened, workers sued for strict negligence and guess what happened? The bosses demanded a system that limited payouts, but would be no fault and provide benefits to workers, this was agreed to by unions and bosses. Fast forward to 2014 and what do we have, bosses, governments and insurance companies winding back benefits and severely limiting common law payments. This man is showing us what to do, reject Workers Comp totally until they live up to their side of the agreement or put up with the degrading mess we have now. This is not a matter of judging whether he deserves it or not, it is a matter of seeking justice, something most injured workers have been denied for too long. Peter Doulis has shown there is another way and if more injured workers did this, then bosses, governments and insurance companies would have to make current WC systems a lot better to avoid huge payouts. Who said History does not repeat itself?

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    • @Bunny, I was hoping you’d say that!

      This is what suing for strict negligence is and I admire this man for the courage he has to do this.

      I hope more injured workers will follow in this man’s brave footsteps.

      We know how hard it is to file a ‘stress’ claim workcover (and insurance agents) routinely reject psychiatric or stress claims often without consideration of the facts.
      Usually, it is only when the worker gets legal advice and disputes the decision will the workcover start considering the evidence, obviously hoping that a large percentage of these injured workers will not take that step. This is terrible for any person who is suffering mentally. In addition the compensation (if any) is rather small, i.e. in Vic you must be suffering 30% WPI (lunatic house or thereabout) in order to get a (meagre K70,000 ) lumpsum. Common law damages claims in Vic are also capped.
      So, good on Peter Doulis! And he did not have to deal with workcover and it’s -often- sickening process.

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      • fyi this was just a normal workcover common law damages claim/case that was run by workcover. Workcover knocked it back and contested it at every step. He had to go to court to get a serious injury, then workcover wouldn’t settle common law damages claim so that’s why it went to full trial.

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  3. I thought good on the guy… that was until I read the judgement and read what a nasty little creep this Doulis was. He was prepared to make up anything to win, no matter the psychological harm his false allegations would cause to others, Im guessing Doulis saw them as nothing more than collateral damage. In his affidavits Doulis swore that another male teacher (that he publicly named in his evidence) indecently assaulted a female student. Judge found that this allegation was totally unfounded, said it should never have been made by Doulis, and was done for no other reason than to besmirch the reputation of another teacher to bolster Doulis’ case. You are left thinking OMG that poor other teacher being falsely accused of sexually abusing a student by Doulis just to bolster his case. Imagine the psychologically impact on that other teacher and the mental harm caused to them by Doulis’s false allegation of sexual abuse against a child and being so publicly made. Doulis is about the lowest form of humanity you can get. Doulis also made false allegations against other teachers were sharing porn around the school. Judge found again the that allegation was also false and made up by Doulis to bolster his case. Judge went on to say that basically Doulis was so lacking in any credibility that unless anything he said could be independently corroborated by another party he would not believe a word that came out of Doulis’s mouth. Hope these other teachers he viciously defamed sue Doulis ass off. To deliberately and knowingly falsely accuse another adult of child sexual abuse is pretty low life act but to especially fabricate such an allegation against a teacher is a real dog act.

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  4. When workcover claim gone mad………………..

    We all for people making legitimate workcover claims but saw this in herald sun about what happens when some dickhead worker makes a dumb assed workcover claim, every one suffers.

    Worksafe wants to ban councils from allowing the public to play games in public parks….cause some dickhead worker at SES made a workcover claim cause he injured himself when he went to catch the ball when him and a group of work mates were playing a game of cricket in local park.

    The worker claims that ‘SES should have done a risk assessment of the Southbank site and drawn up a Work Safety Plan’….is this dickhead being serious!!! Its a game of bloody cricket mate.

    So workcover doesn’t have to foot the bill for this tosser, workcover are now saying the council is negligent for letting people play games or engage in recreational activities in parks. What the hell are parks for?????

    Lets just ban the public from playing of all games and any recreational activity in parks cause there are dickhead like George Anestopoulos and his ambulance chasing lawyer at Maurice Blackburn who can’t just accept that sometimes you know what, shit just happens.

    Its idiots like this that make injured workers look bad.

    http://www.news.com.au/national/victoria/workcover-takes-court-action-to-stop-play-at-a-melbourne-park-after-man-is-injured-in-social-cricket/story-fnii5sms-1227065868052

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