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Workplace Injuries - Wilson v Gold Coast Hospital & Health Service

Connor Boccalatte
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06 February 2024

A Queensland nurse has been awarded $1.6 million in damages after successfully suing a regional health service for a serious hip injury she suffered whilst trying to help restrain and treat an aggressive patient.

The Incident & Injury

On 12 March 2016, the Plaintiff was assisting a registered nurse “X” and two security officers administer a sedative to a patient who was laying supine in bed. The patient was a petite and frail 59-year-old female who suffered dementia.

X administered the patient with an intramuscular sedative injection while the two security officers at each side of the bed held the patient’s arms. The Plaintiff was standing at the base of the bed holding the patient's legs so X could administer the sedative.

At the completion of the sedative injection, X, the security officers, and the Plaintiff released the patient. The patient then kicked out her legs in the direction of the Plaintiff which resulted in the Plaintiff abruptly jerking back and twisting in a reflex response.

As a result of the incident, Ms Wilson continued to suffer from debilitating hip pain, was unable to work, gained 30 kilograms because she was unable to exercise and suffered serious deterioration of her mental health.

Claim for Compensation

Ms Wilson brought a claim for compensation, alleging that the Defendant had been negligent in a variety of ways, such as:

  1. Failing to provide adequate training in relation to patient restraint to the Plaintiff; and
  2. Failing to adequately respond to a “Code Black” emergency call, particularly failing to call for a third security officer; and
  3. Failing to appropriately or safely release the patient;

The Defendant submitted:

  • The incident was not a “Code Black”.
  • The response of sending two security officers to assist was adequate.
  • The situation with the patient was an emergency and there was no time to wait for a third security officer.
  • At the time of the Plaintiff’s reflex action of jerking back and twisting, any restraint of the patient had ended.
Foreseeable Risk of Injury

The Court held that the patient posed a general foreseeable risk of injury to the Plaintiff, particularly in the course of attempting to restrain the patient. Further, the Court found that the risk of injury to the Plaintiff was not insignificant.

The Patient had an aggressive history of being violent with an intention to harm. As her legs were unrestrained, there remained a risk of injury from the patient thrashing about.

Therefore, there was a foreseeable risk of harm from the patient, based on her past behaviour, that she would cause physical harm to someone in Ms Wilson’s position when she did not wish to take her medication, or otherwise resisted care.

Additional Security Needed

The Court also found that there were various reasonable precautions that could have been taken by the Defendant that would have minimised the risk of harm.

Firstly, the Court found that three security officers were required under the Defendant’s own policies and procedures. As such, there would be no cost issues for the Defendant, in having three security guards respond to the call.

In the scenario of an escalating patient, the Court held that security should have adjusted their approach by waiting for a third officer to arrive to assist with patient restraint.

The Court held that there was a call made to security, resulting in two officers responding to the call however, there was no evidence of the content of the call, and it appeared that a Code Black was not called.

Nonetheless, the Court held that upon the officers’ arrival, they should have appreciated that a third officer was needed and called for backup, in accordance with the Defendant’s procedures.

If a third officer was called, the Court held that it was more probable than not that the third officer would have attended. Ms Wilson would then be able to adopt her role as clinician and the patient’s ally, not captor, likely reducing the patient’s violent behaviour towards her.

Roles and Training

The Court identified the clear division in roles between security and clinicians, where security were required to restrain patients where necessary and clinicians, such as Ms Wilson, were to reassure the patient and administer medication.

The Court held that it could only be a reasonable precaution for the Defendant to train and educate nurses in the physical restraint of patients as a last resort only. Otherwise, the Court held that it should have provided explicit instructions to nurses to avoid taking part in the physical restraint.

The Court held it would not be reasonable to train clinicians, such as Ms Wilson in patient restraint, rather provide adequate training and clear direction to put their own safety first and allow security to fill that role.

If Ms Wilson received this training, she would have most likely followed it. She most likely would not have been involved in restraining the patient and would not have been injured.

Ms Wilson was successful

From the above findings, the Court held that the Defendant had breached their duty of care, which had resulted in her injuries and subsequent loss and damage.

The Court awarded Ms Wilson approximately $1.6 million in compensation.

How we can help

The Compensation Team at Wallace & Wallace Lawyers are experienced in all aspects of Workers’ Compensation legislation. If you are dissatisfied with your current representation, our experts can also offer a second opinion.

If you, or someone you know has been injured at work, or you want a second opinion, call us now on (07) 4963 2000 or contact us via our online contact form for practical legal advice on how you should proceed.