A brick cleaner who fell 4.5 m from scaffolding onto a pile of bricks, has successfully sued the occupier of the building site, with the Supreme Court of Victoria finding the occupier negligent in allowing independent contractors to work on scaffolding that was deficient.
On 30 October 2007, Marin Bucic was working as a self-employed brick cleaner when he fell approximately 4.5 m from a raised scaffolding bay onto a pile of bricks. There were no witnesses to the fall. He suffered serious injury as a result of the accident. Arnej Pty Ltd was the sole-trader responsible for the construction of the house. The scaffolding was erected by a hire company.
Mr Bucic commenced proceedings in the Supreme Court of Victoria against Arnej Pty Ltd, in negligence and claimed damaged. He also alleged breach of statutory duty pursuant to Pt 3.5 of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007 (“the Regulations”).
Arnej Pty Ltd agreed it was the occupier of the premises and owed Mr Bucic a duty of care. However, it denied any breach of duty and argued that if there was such a breach, it was not a material cause of Mr Bucic’s lumbar spine and neck injuries, which it argued were wholly preexisting. It also alleged contributory negligence, that the risk of injury was obvious, and that Mr Bucic voluntarily assumed the risk of climbing down the outside of the scaffold rather than using the specified entry and exit points. The hire company that erected the scaffolding was joined as a third party, with that claim subsequently settling.
Her Honour Zammit J found that Arnej Pty Ltd breached its duty of care as occupier of the premises by allowing independent contractors and, in particular, Mr Bucic to work on scaffolding that was deficient. The scaffolding provided did not have fall protection and was not adequately secured; there were no steps for accessing the raised scaffolding bay; no warning was given to Mr Bucic before he used the scaffolding; and, in at least the seven days before the fall, Arnej Pty Ltd failed to inspect the scaffolding and have it repaired.  Further, that Arnej Pty Ltd’s negligence caused or materially contributed to Mr Bucic’s back and neck and, in turn, psychiatric and cognitive injuries. 
Accordingly, the court found in favour of Mr Bucic and awarded damages in the total sum of $1,043,000, including general damages of $300,000, and special damages of $743,000: Bucic v Arnej Pty Ltd
This article first appeared in the CCH Australian Tort, Personal Injury, Health and Medical Law Tracker and is reproduced in full with permission from CCH, a division of Wolters Kluwer Australia: www.wolterskluwer.cch.com.au
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