Readers of this blog would be aware of the tragic death of a Queensland paramedic in a motor vehicle accident on Monday 28 January 2019 (Talissa Siganto, Lily Nothling and staff ‘Paramedic dies in crash on way to emergency in North Queensland’ ABC News (Online) 28 January 2019). Australian Emergency law extends our condolences to this man’s family, his colleagues and in particular those members of the emergency services that were called to the accident.
A general question has been asked:
Without apportioning blame, would you be able to discuss the legal process following such an incident? I’m interested in workplace law and coronial investigations that may follow.
What follows is of course general and not a reference to any of the particular circumstances of this accident.
Where a person dies in a motor vehicle whilst at work there are likely to be three interested investigators, police, the coroner and the work safety authority.
The police will investigate to determine if any criminal offences have been committed by any person and will also assist the coroner with his or her functions. Police have to start with an open mind and have to rule in, or out, any possibilities. It is likely therefore that there would be toxicology tests to ensure that the driver was not under the influence of any alcohol or drugs (legal or otherwise). There is also likely to be a post-mortem examination to determine the cause of death. Was it the accident or did the driver have a medical emergency that caused the accident?
Because the death ‘was a violent or otherwise unnatural death’ it is a reportable death (Coroners Act 2003 (Qld) s 8). The role of the Coroner is to determine (Coroners Act 2003 (Qld) s 45):
(a) who the deceased person is; and
(b) how the person died; and
(c) when the person died; and
(d) where the person died, and in particular whether the person died in Queensland; and
(e) what caused the person to die.
The police will have investigated the accident and in most cases (a), (c) and (d) will not be in issue. The autopsy will also have determined (b) and along with the police investigation (e).
A formal inquest is not required. Section 28 says:
(1) An inquest may be held into a reportable death if the coroner investigating the death is satisfied it is in the public interest to hold the inquest.
(2) In deciding whether it is in the public interest to hold an inquest, the coroner may consider—
(a) the extent to which drawing attention to the circumstances of the death may prevent deaths in similar circumstances happening in the future; …
If the matters listed in s 45 have been established and if there is no reason to think that there will be little or no value in ‘drawing attention to the circumstances of the death [to] prevent deaths in similar circumstances happening in the future…’ then the Coroner will not hold a formal inquest.
Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) a person conducting a business or undertaking (a PCBU) must report a work related fatality (ss 35 and 38). An Inspector can investigate to determine if there has been any breach of the Work Health and Safety Act. One would hope that an inspector would work with Police to avoid duplication of their work. The inspector is likely to become more involved if the police investigation reveals some systemic issue in the management of the workplace that contributed to the accident.
This is a very general discussion stimulated by, but not in reference to the death of the paramedic in Queensland. Where a worker dies in a motor vehicle accident, any worker, then there may be a police investigation that the Coroner and WorkCover are satisfied identify all relevant issues and nothing further is required. Or there may be a long detailed investigation by both Police and WorkCover and a formal coronial inquiry with witnesses called and examined, recommendations made and prosecutions launched. Where the inquiries sit between those two extremes depends on all the circumstances.