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Coalroc Contractors Pty Ltd v Matinca (No 2) [2023] NSWCA 127

Case Summary:

Coalroc Contractors Pty Ltd v Matinca (No 2) [2023] NSWCA 127

This NSW Court of Appeal matter concerned a coal miner, Troy Matinca.

The Facts

On 17 April 2016, he drove home to Mount Hutton after working three 12-hour shifts from 15 – 17 April 2016 at the Ulan West Coal Mine. During his 3 hour and 15-minute drive home, he drove his car off the road, hit a tree, crossed the road again, and then collided with another tree. There were no witnesses to the accident and Mr Matinca did not have any memory of the accident including the hours leading up to it.

The Case

He alleged that this motor vehicle accident arose due to fatigue caused by the nature and conditions of his work. Mr Matinca submitted that the duty of care his employer, Coalroc Contractors Pty Ltd, owed him included managing the risk of an accident on his way home due to fatigue. He argued that his employer was also negligent as it hadn’t offered him on-site accommodation after the completion of his last shift, and that it had not shortened his shift hours so that he wouldn’t be working and/or commuting for more than 14.5 hours on a workday.

District Court Decision

When the matter was first heard before Judge Campbell, His Honour determined that Mr Matinca’s employer did owe him a duty of care as alleged, and that they it breached this duty of care by not insisting that Mr Matinca provide them a travel management plan. This plan would have been subject to his employer’s approval and would have proposed how to manage Mr Matinca’s fatigue on his drive home.

Judge Campbell considered that a travel management plan would have included that Mr Matinca take 20–30-minute rest breaks. His Honour considered that Mr Matinca would have complied with this plan, and that in doing so, would have avoided the subject accident, noting his consideration that it was a temporary inattention due to fatigue which caused the accident.

The primary judge entered judgment in favour of Troy Matinca in the sum of $1,130,782.28 (including a 30% reduction for contributory negligence) and held that his employer was negligent.

The Appeal

Coalroc Contractors (“the appellant”) appealed the decision, challenging several findings that the primary judge had made, including:

  • Grounds 1-5 – His Honour’s finding that the subject accident was caused by work-induced fatigue;
  • Ground 6 – That the employer’s duty of care continued to apply after Mr Matinca left the work site;
  • Ground 7 – That the employer had not sufficiently discharged its duty of care by training Mr Matinca in fatigue and in submitting a travel plan if travelling beyond the daily recommended hours;
  • Ground 8 – That to sufficiently discharge its duty of care, the employer had to insist that Mr Matinca supply them a personal travel management plan for its approval; and
  • Grounds 9 – 11 – That the alleged failure to insist that Mr Matinca submit and adhere to a personal travel management plan caused his injuries (Causation).

Adamson JA noted the following with respect to each ground of appeal (with Meagher JA and Mitchelmore JA concurring):

Grounds 1 – 5

While Adamson JA accepted that temporary inattention (which had caused the accident) could be caused by fatigue, he did not consider that it had been proven as the probable cause. There were multiple possible causes for momentary distraction such as an insect inside the vehicle, a phone call etc. Adamson JA considered that more evidence should have been admitted proving that fatigue was the probable cause to the required standard. In the absence of this evidence, Mr Matinca had only established that fatigue could have caused the accident – but not that it actually did on the balance of probabilities.

Adamson JA was satisfied that grounds 1 – 5 of the appeal had been made out.

Grounds 6 – 7

Adamson JA did not consider that this ground had to be addressed, as the relevant duty of care was to insist upon the submission of a travel plan prior to leaving the site. Therefore, it was not relevant as to whether the duty of care extended to Mr Matinca’s drive home upon leaving the site or whether his training had been sufficient, as the alleged negligence occurred on-site and had been specific to the submission of a personal travel management plan.

Ground 8

Adamson JA did not understand how the insistence on the submission of a personal travel management plan could be considered a reasonable precaution to mitigate the risk of harm of being fatigued while driving. These plans, while subject to approval, did not seem to have any means of enforcement or monitoring – which meant that they could be disregarded after their initial submission.

Adamson JA was satisfied that ground 8 had been made out.

Grounds 9 – 11

The trial judge had considered that if a travel management plan was required, Mr Matinca would have submitted and adhered to same, and that this plan would have included 20–30-minute rest breaks. These findings make several assumptions that Mr Matinca would have complied with this requirement, that these rest breaks would have been proposed in the plan, and that the proposed rest breaks would have prevented the accident.

However, Mr Matinca had given evidence that he did not want to rest in his car prior to starting the journey home, that he would not want to stay in Mudgee overnight instead of driving home, that he preferred to return home directly after finishing his work shifts, and that he only ever stopped on the way home if he needed petrol. None of the evidence he gave indicated that he was mitigating the risk of driving while fatigued and Adamson JA found it difficult to see how a personal travel management plan would have altered his habits.

As well, Adamson JA accepted that while a rest break might mitigate the risk of an accident while driving fatigued – this does not establish that a rest break would have prevented the accident from occurring, just that it reduced the risk of an accident occurring.

All members of the Appeal Court concurred:

  1. The employer’s appeal should be allowed; and
  2. For the judgment of Judge Campbell to be set aside and, instead, for judgment to be entered in favour of the defendant (the employer).

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