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Woman working from home killed by partner

The workers compensation scheme awarded her children with almost $450,000.
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Woman working from home killed by partner

Woman working from home killed by partner

27 April 2020

A court has found that a woman in her own home was likely to have been working when she was killed by her mentally ill partner, who was a co-worker in the same business.

The NSW Court of Appeal has upheld a decision under the workers compensation scheme to award her children with almost $450,000 in death benefits.

The woman was an employee of a family company providing financial advice, which she and her de facto partner operated from their home on the New South Wales central coast. Her partner was diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. His delusions related both to their work and their personal relationship. He believed she was spying on him for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and sabotaging the business.

She was found dead in her bedroom. Her partner was charged with murder and found not guilty, on the ground of mental illness. At the time, she had two dependent children – a teenage son and a baby a few weeks old.

Death benefits under the workers compensation scheme were claimed for the children, but the nominal insurer (the family company had been deregistered) rejected the claim. The insurer argued that the woman appeared to have been assaulted before her official start time of 9am, so her death was not work-related.

This decision was reviewed in December 2018.  It was established that she’d been in the habit of taking work calls as early as 7am and responding to work-related matters until as late as 9pm, so the time of death did not rule out the possibility that she was working when she was killed.

An arbitrator at the Workers Compensation Commission therefore determined that the woman died as a result of injury arising out of and in the course of her employment, and awarded the worker's two sons a total of $449,850 in death benefits.

The nominal insurer, however, appealed, and six months later the appeal was heard and dismissed by the Deputy President of the Workers Compensation Commission.

The nominal insurer then appealed again, raising issues about a number of points of law, including whether the fatal assault – since it was inspired by delusions – was causally connected to the woman’s employment.

The case was heard in the Supreme Court of New South Wales.


In court

The court needed to consider the evidence as to whether there was a causal link between the worker’s employment and the harm she suffered.

The nominal insurer took the position that the fatal assault was a result of the delusions of the woman’s partner, and did not arise out of the course of her employment. Its argument was that the assault was not work-related because the risk of an assault of this kind was never any part of the woman’s duties in the business.

The court found that while the risk of this type of injury was not inherent in the profession of giving financial advice, the risk of sudden, violent attack materialised as part of a hostile working environment created by her co-worker and supervisor.

The court held that the Deputy President of the Workers Comp Commission had not erred in her conclusions. The court considered that there was evidence to support the arbitrator’s findings that the worker’s death occurred out of and in the course of her employment, and that her employment was a substantial contributing factor in her death.

All the grounds of the appeal were rejected. The appeal was dismissed and the insurer was ordered to pay costs.

The bottom line: If a worker is ‘on call’ and typically works from home beyond the bounds of ‘official’ working hours, they may be considered to be ‘at work’. And an injury may be considered to arise out of a person’s employment even if the risk is not usually an inherent characteristic of their profession.


Read the judgment

Workers Compensation Nominal Insurer v Hill [2020] NSWCA 54 (31 March 2020)

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