Bonked! Compensation for workplace injury by falling banana reduced for contributory negligence
Generally, an employer has a duty to its employees to provide a safe and healthy work environment. An employer may be held negligent if they do not implement procedures or practices to prevent or minimize workplace injury.
Concurrently, there is an expectation for employees to take reasonable care of their own safety. If an employee is partially responsible for their own injury arising in the workplace, then they can be held as being contributorily negligent.
If you are found to be contributorily negligent, then the amount received may be reduced proportionately depending on your role leading to the injury.
An example of contributory negligence is demonstrated best by a recent Supreme Court of Queensland case, which showcases the importance of workplace training for employers and employees.
1. Case Study
In Longbottom v L & R Collins Pty Ltd  QSV 242, the courts found the employer liable for the loss and damages suffered when a banana farm worker was hurt harvesting bananas. It then considered the extent to which the employee was responsible for his own injuries.
1.1 The facts
On 20 June 2016, Mr Jaime Longbottom was working as a ‘humper’, whose role was to catch the banana bunch while another employee, the ‘cutter’, separated the bunch from the tree.
Banana tree stems are known to be soft and easy to snap. To bend the bunch gradually without breaking the tree, the cutter must make small incisions into the tree. Once the bunch is low enough to position onto the humper’s shoulder, the humper instructs the cutter to sever the bunch from the tree.
While harvesting a large bunch from a tall tree, the cutter made an incision far too deep which caused the tree and the bunch (weighing nearly 70kg!) to fall on Mr Longbottom, injuring him as a result.
Mr Longbottom’s supervisor gave evidence on the procedures and training given for banana harvesting. Ordinarily, the humper is expected to stand clear from the tree while the cutter makes the initial incision, particularly if the bananas are positioned too high above. In the event the bunch descended faster than normal, the humper should not move underneath the tree at all.
Mr Longbottom alleged that his employer, the defendant, was negligent for failing to train him or the cutter on the proper procedure to safely harvest unusually high bunches from unusually tall trees. He further claimed that he was taught to stand beneath and observe the bunch as the cutter lowered the tree. The defendant claimed that Mr Longbottom was contributorily negligent for failing to stand clear while the initial incision was made.
1.2 The court’s decision
Chief Justice Holmes was unsatisfied with Mr Longbottom’s recollection of events. Nevertheless, her Honor was satisfied that the cutter, either through lack of training or skill, had caused the tree to fall onto Mr Longbottom. The risk of the tree collapsing and causing injury if care was not taken was “foreseeable and significant”. Therefore, the defendant was liable in negligence.
The supervisor’s evidence was accepted as being sensible and credible; however, there was no evidence that specific instructions were given to Mr Longbottom in relation to larger trees. Even so, common sense should have informed Mr Longbottom to stand clear while the first cut was made, particularly given the size of the tree and his unfamiliarity with the cutter. Mr Longbottom disregarded that obvious risk and failed to ensure his own safety and was therefore contributorily negligent.
Mr Longbottom was awarded $558,600,36 for damages subject to a 10% reduction for contributory negligence assessed by the courts. Ultimately, Mr Longbottom received $55.860.04 less for a grand total of $486,696.99.
Workplace safety is a shared responsibility between both employers and employees. Employers must facilitate workplace safety by ensuring that their employees are trained and instructed appropriately, amongst other things.
As an employee, you are also accountable for your own safety by taking reasonable steps to avoid workplace injury. By failing to stand clear, Mr Longbottom neglected to protect himself from an obvious risk and was held contributorily negligent for his own grievance. Even in the absence of proper instructions, it was common sense in the circumstances to stand clear from heavy objects prone to falling.
If you have been injured at work and are unsure who is at fault, consider consulting with our team of expert injury and compensation lawyers at Ascent Lawyers.