The Facts

Man suffers serious back injury shovelling earth at work

The complainant was a 61-year-old man who had obtained a higher school certificate and a TAFE certification in grounds, gardening and pool maintenance. He also had training in the hospitality, bar and bistro and security industries.

On 1 September 2000, the man commenced employment as a groundskeeper with the employer. He became a member of the employer's superannuation fund.

On 20 March 2001 he suffered a back injury at work while shovelling earth into the back of a tipper truck.

He attempted to work following the injury, but due to intense pain was ultimately unable to do so.

The man sought treatment from a chiropractor and underwent a structured exercise program, but the pain continued.

On 16 October 2001, the employer terminated the man's employment. He received workers compensation after this because of the seriousness of his injury.

The man subsequently tried to work in other capacities, but his pain was too intense to allow him to do this.

Insurer denies TPD claim and injured worker lodges complaint

In late 2012, the injured worker lodged a claim for total and permanent disability (TPD) with the insurer under his employer's superannuation fund.

The fund's policy covered the man for total and permanent disability if he was incapacitated to such an extent that he was unable ever to do work for which he was reasonably qualified by his education, training, or experience.

The insurer denied the man's claim, concluding that he was not totally and permanently disabled.

The man lodged a complaint with the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal, arguing that the insurer's decision was unreasonable and should be overturned.

It was up to the tribunal to decide if the insurer's decision should stand.

case a - The case for the insurer

case b - The case for the injured worker

  • We denied the claim because the complainant does not meet the definition of "totally and permanently disabled" under the fund's TPD policy.
  • Case law makes it clear that we can conclude that the complainant is not totally and permanently disabled if he is able to engage in part-time work.
  • The majority of the medical evidence provided, including WorkCover medical certificates completed near the date of the complainant's injury, indicate that he was and continued to be fit for light and/or suitable duties on a part-time basis.
  • The numerous functional and vocational reports that were commissioned indicated that he had a wide-ranging education, training and experience which he could draw upon to do part-time work. Such opportunities include working as an earth mover or a nursery worker.
  • The complainant himself indicated in a Work Focus Australia Vocation Report that he was capable of working in occupations identified as being within his education, training and experience.
  • Given that the complainant did not satisfy the terms of the TPD insurance policy, our decision to decline his claim was fair and reasonable. The tribunal should dismiss the complaint.
  • My employment has always consisted of heavy manual labour. My previous roles as driver, furniture removalist, service station night manager, kitchenhand and groundskeeper all involved varying periods of extended sitting, standing and manual labour, which I can no longer perform.
  • It is impossible to find part-time, light duties in heavy manual labour and I am not qualified to do anything else. Nor can I cope with any prolonged period of sitting or standing, due to my serious pain levels.
  • After participating in rehabilitation programs, I tried to return to work as a kitchenhand. However, even though I was working for a friend who made allowances for my disability, I was not capable of doing the work because my pain was so intense.
  • I have been evaluated by many specialists. Not one of them has ever certified me as fit to return to my duties.
  • I also require assistance with domestic duties. As I cannot even care for myself in my own home, it is ludicrous to suggest that I could do paid work.
  • I will never be able to return to the work that I am qualified for by my education, training, and experience, so I am totally and permanently disabled under the insurance policy and the tribunal should compel the insurer to accept my TPD claim.

So, which case won?

Cast your judgment below to find out

Lenece Pek
Superannuation and TPD claims
Stacks Law Firm

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