Is it just me, or has the Australian legal system gone mad?? When did we stop taking responsibility in our search for loopholes in increasingly ludicrous lawsuits?? Are we in danger of becoming like our American friends and filing suit for the sake of suing someone?? And how did we get to the point where we can blame everything on everyone else and reap financial rewards from winning The Blame Game??
Below is an article that appeared on the Sydney Morning Herald website today. (Don’t even get me started on how the reporter failed to check his article before submitting it online. No points for those who pick the spelling errors and superfluous words.)
A fall, a rape – and $240,000
April 26, 2007
A woman has won nearly $240,000 compensation from RailCorp after a judge ruled she was raped because she had broken her ankle weeks earlier at a Sydney railway station.
RailCorp was found responsible for the woman’s rape at a private home, because she could not escape with her leg in plaster, and for her subsequent depression.
The 36-year-old Taiwanese television reporter, Yu-Mei Chu, had been in Sydney to learn English when she lost her footing on slippery stairs at Sydenham rail station in December 2002.
A few weeks later, while still on crutches with her leg ankle in plaster, she was sexually assaulted and beaten at a man’s home.
She told the court she could not get away because of her broken ankle.
She became increasingly depressed after the assault, lost her will to socialise and her hair suddenly turned grey.
She was also concerned about her inability to marry and have children, the court heard.
A District Court judge, John Goldring, found she would not have been sexually assaulted if her ankle had not been in plaster.
"The psychological injury to [Ms Chu], which she would not have suffered but for the ankle injury, but which she did suffer because of the sexual assault, is within the scope of [RailCorp’s] responsibility," he said.
It was a "forseeable consequence" of RailCorp’s breach of duty of care to provide safe steps at the station, he said.
An engineer’s report tendered in court found the stairs leading to the station’s platform 6 were "hazardous" when wet.
A yellow stripe on the front of the steps to increase their visibility had been coated painted with paint which did not provide the required friction, the report said.
The friction was "well below the minimum specified in the Australian standard", the report says, and an accident would have been averted had another paint with anti-slip grains been used.
Judge Goldring said RailCorp did not contest the finding, but argued Ms Chu had failed to take due care for her own safety when she did not hold on to the railing.
Ms Chu, also known as Sherry Chu, was in Sydney on a temporary visa which did not entitle her to work or claim Medicare benefits.
The judge said in April it appeared she no longer had a valid visa and was in the country illegally.
When she was treated for her broken ankle she used the Medicare card of her landlady.
But Judge Goldring found she did so "because she was in severe pain, and probably shock, and clearly required immediate medical attention".
"I do not attribute any improper motive to either of these women. I put this down to cultural differences,” he said.
She was awarded $239,405 for the injury, medical expenses, and lost wages.
This includes damages of $150 a week for the rest of her life because her injury prevents her working in the same position she did before coming to Australia.
A spokesman for RailCorp spokesman said the company would appeal the judgement. "We feel there are some inconsistencies in the judgement," he said.
I am by no means arguing or belittling the pain and suffering that Chu has endured. I agree that she should receive compensation from RailCorp for failing to ensure their flooring was safe for pedestrians in both wet and dry conditions which caused her to slip over and break her ankle. And it is truly awful that Chu then suffered physical assault and violation in an abhorrent act of violence. What I am failing to see is how RailCorp is deemed responsible for Chu being raped and beaten in a private home some time after she broke her ankle on the steps of a railway station.
I honestly believe that Judge Goldring has set a very dangerous precedent in his ruling. In summary, Judge Goldring has ruled that RailCorp was responsible for Chu being raped. At the risk of sounding ignorant, what the??
Chu was injured at a railway station, and it was RailCorp’s fault that the paint they used made the surface slippery when wet. Ok, I can live with that.
But consider this – at the time of her injury, Chu had overstayed her visa, which meant she was in Australian illegally. If she had been found out, Chu would have been deported back to Taiwan, leaving a black mark against her name and making any future visits to Australia near (if not completely) impossible.
As if being an illegal immigrant wasn’t enough, Chu used her landlady’s Medicare card to see doctors for her injuries, which meant she had fraudulently assumed the identity of an Australian citizen in order to gain free access to the medical system.
And what did Judge Goldring have to say about the above? Nothing at all about the fact she was in the country illegally, and it’s all good to pretend to be someone else to sponge off the already overstretched and under-funded Australian public medical system for a bit of free medical treatment.
I’m all for helping those that need help, so whilst I’m bemused (and a little annoyed) by Judge Goldring brushing aside Chu’s illegal status and identity theft, I am appalled that he has ruled RailCorp responsible for Chu being raped and beaten and for her subsequent depression.
The article clearly stated that the rape occurred in a private home – not RailCorp owned property – weeks after her injury. I repeat, weeks had passed between her injury and the assault. And the article never mentioned the assailant being related to RailCorp in any capacity. Clearly, Chu’s assault was in no way related to RailCorp. Yet somehow, Judge Goldring made his ruling based on a very tenuous link attributing blame to RailCorp.
How far can you stretch the very thin rubber band that is tying this case together?
Just so we’re clear, not for one moment am I saying that it was Chu’s fault she was assaulted – that kind of stuff should NEVER happen to anyone, and those who commit such heinous acts against others (such as the man who assaulted Chu) should be hung and quartered.
However, we must take responsibility for our actions, and stop attributing all blame on everyone else. For Chu to attribute her assault and subsequent emotional distress to RailCorp is too far reaching. And for a judge to agree with her is setting too dangerous a precedent for people who may take advantage of this precedent and exploit future situations.
And why didn’t Chu return to Taiwan when her visa expired? Chu would have been fully aware that she had overstayed her visa, by more than 6 months, yet here she was, flouting the law and skiving medical benefits.
I feel insulted by Judge Goldring’s rulings. For him to say that Chu was raped because RailCorp’s slippery stairs broke her leg is outrageous. And for him to excuse Chu falsifying her identity to get medical treatment as a "cultural difference" is downright ridiculous. Does he honestly think that the general public is so stupid they would buy his rulings as fair dinkum?
What next? If tomorrow I was run over by a bus as I was leaving work with a migraine brought on by the non-stop high pitched whistling of a malfunctioning air conditioning unit, can I sue the air conditioning manufacturer for my injuries? I’d be hoping my case will appear before Judge Goldring, as he might just rule in my favour.
I hope RailCorp successfully appeals this ruling and nip this kind of nonsense in the bud.