Coles is ordered to pay a deli manager $ 830,000 after throwing her back outside and lifting a box of chickens into a cramped, cool room.
Sonja Filiposka, 51, is suffering excruciating pain in her back and left leg almost six years after the injury at the Brighton-le-Sands store in south Sydney.
The NSW court heard that the mother of three had undergone surgery and therapy to improve her condition, but was now unable to work in any capacity.
The grocery store claimed she caused her injury through her own negligence, but Judge Leonard Levy dismissed it, blaming Coles.
Mrs. Filiposka herself was moving boxes of chicken carcasses around 6am on New Year’s Eve 2014 to prepare them for cooking.
Sonja Filiposka, 51, suffers excruciating pain in her back and left leg nearly six years after the injury at the Brighton-le-Sands store (pictured) in south Sydney
Two of the bins weighing 10kg to 14.4kg stood on the bottom of a set of shelves in the overflowing freezer behind the deli.
With so little room to maneuver, Ms. Filiposka was forced to lift the tray from near floor level and then turn her body to place it on a trolley.
She moved the first box with no problem, but the second was further back on the shelf, forcing her to squat lower and lean forward to take it out and lift it.
As Mrs. Filiposka twisted her body to put the second tray on the trolley, she felt a sharp pain in her back.
“She felt as if she had been hit there and then fell to the ground, after experiencing reduced consciousness due to pain,” Judge Levy wrote in his verdict.
The Macedonian immigrant was rushed to St George’s Hospital and was later diagnosed with a lumbar disc lesion.
The disc had also moved enough through the injury to cause pain in her sciatic nerve, which runs from the spine down the leg.
In February 2016, after a series of failed treatments, doctors ruled that her condition was ‘rapidly going downhill’ and that she needed surgery.
Ms. Filiposka was herself moving boxes of carcasses around 6am on New Years Eve 2014 to prepare them for cooking when she injured her back
She underwent lumbar spinal fusion surgery in early 2018, but while it brought some relief, her pain was still too much to work.
Several doctors assessed her ability to work and initially found that she could do sedentary work for a few hours a day.
However, she later developed complications and was assessed as unable to work at all earlier this year.
Judge Levy wrote that she had “constant back pain with occasional sharp stabbing pains with some burning, and tingling sensations down her left leg and ankle.”
Coles argued that Ms. Filiposka had “unnecessarily exposed herself to risk of injury” and “failed to take adequate care of her own safety.”
Judge Levy dismissed this after reviewing Coles’ safety training, which was just a video telling her to use her knees but only showing lifts from her waist.
He found that she was “poorly trained and not assisted in manual handling techniques” and received “limited” safety training.
The grocery store also argued that, as the deli manager, she had control over the schedule and could have scheduled another employee to assist her with the lifting.
However, she indicated that the deli was chronically understaffed due to cost cutting by senior managers.
Coles argued that Ms. Filiposka “ unnecessarily exposed herself to risk of injury ” and failed to “ take adequate care of her own safety, ” but the judge did not rule this
In Ms. Filiposka’s performance review in June 2014, she was berated for being on average $ 201 a week more than the staff budget.
‘Many times [her boss] Called me at the office and he could say “This is not your budget. Your sandwich shop doesn’t make that much money. You’re cutting this team member,” she told the court.
Judge Levy ruled that Ms. Filiposka was only lifting that morning because the sandwich shop was understaffed and she was doing her best to meet the budget.
“She couldn’t rely on casual help for occasional manual handling tasks,” he wrote.
“She did her best to meet the defendant’s demands under difficult circumstances that evolved due to budget constraints imposed by the senior staff.”
Judge Levy ruled that Coles had a duty of care to his employees and failed to take reasonable precautions to avoid the risk of serious injury.
He awarded Ms. Filiposka $ 259,200 for the 288 weeks of work she missed and $ 446,273 for 16 years of lost future earnings.
With retirement, this came to $ 828,554 plus her legal fees.
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