In this matter an injured worker filed an Application to Resolve a Dispute in the Workers Compensation Commission to claim reasonable and necessary medical expenses in accordance with section 60 of the Workers Compensation Act 1987 (“the Act”). Those medical expenses were for the cost of a new vehicle minus the trade in value of his old vehicle.
The worker had to upgrade from a Mazda 3 to a Hyundai IMAX including ramp fit-out as a result of a lumbar spine injury received on 14 February 2014 whilst he was employed by GGA Glass & Aluminium Pty Ltd (“GGA”) for which he underwent multi-level spinal fusion in 2016. The new vehicle was required as the Mazda was inadequate for conveying his mobility aids including a walker and scooter.
There was no dispute as the workers’ injury, the extent mobility restrictions, the need for domestic assistance, the need for a carer and the need for mobility aids. However, the claim for the new vehicle was disputed by GGA insured by EML as they disagreed that a replacement vehicle is a curative apparatus within the meaning of section 59 of the Act.
The worker no longer drives as a result of the injury and his wife, also his carer will be the person driving the motor vehicle. GGA argued the vehicle directly benefited the wife, not the worker, who is not entitled to compensation, implying the new vehicle cannot be considered a curative apparatus for the worker. Further, infuriatingly they argued that, if the wife cannot transport the mobility aids, she should not be the worker’s carer.
On 14 October 2019, Arbitrator Jane Peacock determined that on the balance of probabilities the new vehicle “would provide the necessary therapeutic impact to qualify as curative apparatus in the circumstances … where the mobility aids” assist a worker, who cannot be transported in the Mazda without risk of injury to the wife upon whom he is dependent to travel in circumstances where the worker suffers from an injured spine, atrophy of his muscles due to lack of use and emotional deterioration “by reason of lack of something to do”.
She determined the worker “needs to travel by car and he needs his mobility aids to mobilise when he gets to his destination” and she was “satisfied … that the proposed new vehicle … with ramp fit out is a reasonably necessary expense under section 60.
It is important where reasonable and necessary medical expenses are being claimed, each case will depend on its own facts and the outcome before the Workers Compensation Commission may be different.