In the recent case of JJ Richards & Sons Pty Ltd v Workers’ Compensation Regulator  QIRC 147, the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) considered the finality of decisions made by the Medical Assessment Tribunal (MAT).
The worker lodged an application for compensation (application) for a right shoulder injury he allegedly sustained while driving a garbage truck for the employer, JJ Richards & Sons. The claim was referred to the MAT to decide whether ‘the matters alleged in the application for compensation constitute an injury to the worker’. The MAT decided in the affirmative and relied on a finding that the steering of the truck was defective (a finding which the employer disputed). WorkCover Queensland (WorkCover), as the insurer of the employer, relied on the MAT’s decision to accept the worker’s application.
The employer sought a review of WorkCover’s decision to accept the worker’s application. The Regulator confirmed WorkCover’s decision to accept the application. The employer then appealed the Regulator’s decision to the IRC. On appeal, the IRC was tasked with determining what aspects of the MAT’s decision were binding on the parties.
The finality of MAT decisions
Under s515 of the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Act), the decision of the MAT on a medical matter is final and cannot be appealed. In those circumstances, the Regulator argued the parties were bound by the MAT’s decision. On the other hand, the employer submitted:
- The power of the MAT was limited to matters of a medical nature and/or diagnosis as to whether an alleged mechanism of injury could potentially result in that particular diagnosis;
- Whether a particular mechanism of injury actually occurred is a question of fact and is not a medical matter; and
- The resolution of a question of fact remains with the insurer in assessing the worker’s entitlement to compensation.
The IRC allowed the employer’s appeal, relevantly finding:
…what is assessed by the Tribunal is whether a claimant has suffered a personal injury within s 32 of the Act.
The IRC further held the MAT’s decision in relation to what constitutes a ‘personal injury’ was binding on the parties pursuant to s515 of the Act. However, that did not mean the parties to a dispute would be precluded from challenging the factual and legal issues as to whether or not the ‘personal injury’ was an ‘injury’ within the meaning of s32 of the Act, noting the factual background used to assist the MAT in the determination of the mechanics of the injury were untested.
Impact of the decision
This decision limits the binding nature of a MAT to whether a worker has sustained a ‘personal injury’ within the meaning of s32 of the Act. Whether a particular mechanism of injury occurred or otherwise, being the other factual elements within s32 of the Act remains with the insurer in assessing a worker’s entitlement to compensation and will be subject to appeal. Insurers and, in particular, the Regulator, noting the position he adopted in this appeal should be mindful of the fact a MAT decision in favour of a worker does not mean he/she has an automatic entitlement to compensation. He/she must still prove from a factual standpoint that they sustained ‘injury’ as alleged.
This article was written by Graeme Traves, Partner.