Published 13 April 2015
A man who worked in an Optus call centre has been awarded $3.8 million after the Supreme Court found that Optus had breached its duty of care to him when another call centre worker attempted to murder him by throwing him of a rooftop balcony.
In March 2001, Optus was holding a training course for new inductees to work in their call centre. The inductees were employed by a number of labour hire companies. The training was to last for 3 months with the option of full time employment at the end of that period.
Glenn Wright was employed by IPA Personnel Pty Ltd. Nathaniel George was employed by a different labour hire company, Drake International Pty Ltd. Mr Wright and Mr George had commenced the training course on 12 March 2001 and were unknown to each other. They had very little contact with each other and had only spoken briefly during refreshment breaks.
At 9.15am on 15 March 2001 Mr George absented himself from the training room. He then stood on the rooftop of the building and had other staff members go to Mr Wright and tell him that Mr George wanted to see him on the rooftop. Mr Wright ignored the requests. Ms Hedges, who was conducting the training, became frustrated with the interruptions and left the room in an attempt to find Mr George. She found him on the level 4 rooftop balcony and enquired what was wrong. Mr George was nonresponsive. Mr George then requested for Mr Wright to be bought to him. Ms Hedges formed the view that Mr George was on drugs and sought for Mr Wright to meet them on the rooftop balcony as she believed that he and Mr George may be friends and he could help resolve the matter.
Mr Wright arrived on the balcony, went towards the railing where Mr George was standing and attempted to talk to him. Mr George suddenly grabbed Mr Wright and attempted to lift him upwards and throw him over the balcony. Mr Wright was able to resist and Mr George commenced punching him before another employee was able to intervene. Mr George struggled to break free yelling “I’ll kill him.”
The physical injuries Mr Wright suffered as a result of the attack were minor and he was able to return to work at a different call centre for a short period of time. However, within a few months, Mr Wright had attempted suicide on a number of occasions and frequently self-harmed. Mr Wright was diagnosed as suffering from chronic post-traumatic stress disorder and depression and was dependent upon illegal and prescription drugs. He was regarded as chronically and severely disabled and it was highly unlikely that he would ever be able to return to the workforce.
Mr Wright commenced proceedings against Optus in negligence and claimed that Optus had breached their duty of care to him. Mr Wright claimed that it was reasonably foreseeable that Mr George might assault him and that Optus had failed to take reasonable care to ensure his safety.
Optus denied that it owed Mr Wright a duty of care and claimed that the relationship between the parties was that of occupier of the premises and lawful entrant and that it was not liable for the injuries suffered by Mr Wright caused by criminal offences perpetrated by Mr George.
The Court found that Optus knew, or ought to have known that Mr George was acting in a strange manner as though he was on drugs and that an ordinary person in that situation would have reasonably foreseen that there was a real possibility that Mr Wright might be harmed. Optus should not have permitted Mr Wright to go anywhere near Mr George.
The Court ordered Optus to pay damages to Mr Wright for past and future economic loss, superannuation contributions, future medical expenses, future care, out of pocket expenses and non-economic loss amounting to $3,851,286.