Miner of integrity goes to trial against BHP in court
VETERAN central Queensland miner Frank Mills has beaten mining giant BHP in the Supreme Court to be awarded $1.013million after a workplace accident.
The 58-year-old has been living in agony for nearly three years after injuring his shoulder and spine at Goonyella Riverside Mine, where he has worked for 42years.
"We are delighted and Frank is delighted," his lawyer Gene Paterson the senior director of Macrossan and Amiet said.
"It was more than we were asking for but we are conservative."
The court decision reveals that Mr Mills was originally only seeking $927,531.
But it was Mr Mills' testimony and his behaviour in the witness box that swayed Justice Duncan McMeekin.
"Quite apart from his reports of pain it was evident in observing him in the witness box that he struggles with his right arm," Justice McMeekin wrote in his decision.
"He was barely able to raise it to place his hand on the Bible to take his oath. He frequently held the injured shoulder and grimaced with apparent pain.
"There was no doubting his honesty or integrity."
The accident took place on October 1, 2014, when Mr Mills tried to open a stuck butterfly valve on a vac pump. He damaged his cervical spine and right rotator cuff.
He has since had injections of steroids and had surgery twice.
"He resorts to much stronger pain killers and alcohol on the weekends to relieve his pain," Justice McMeekin wrote in his decision.
After the accident BHP kept Mr Mills on restricted duties as a coal load operator at Goonyella Riverside Mine.
"His employer is obviously sympathetic to him, at least under present management," Justice McMeekin wrote.
But Mr Mills' claim was on the basis that he wouldn't be able to finish his working life, 70 years of age, because of the injury.
BHP argued that there was no pressure from management for him to leave and that he was most unlikely to work up to the age of 70 if he was uninjured.
Because of this, BHP counsel recommended the total cost for loss of future earnings should be $200,000.
"Counsel for BHP had the experts agree that Mr Mills could carry out the principal tasks involved in coal loading, that is, that the tasks were, in their view, within his functional capacities," Justice McMeekin wrote.
But that didn't help his judgment because it was not the orthopaedic expert's opinion on whether Mr Mills could move his shoulder to do the job that was important but whether he could handle the pain of doing it.
"He says that he is in such pain at times that he attempts to ease his pain by reaching over with his left hand to move the levers on the right side," Justice McMeekin wrote.
Justice McMeekin wrote that it might be unlikely Mr Mills would work until 70 but due to his financial position he would have worked for at least another nine years, bring him to the pension age of 67.
And by using that age, Justice McMeekin far exceeded BHP's proposed $200,000 for future loss of earnings and awarded Mr Mills $610,650.
Combined with a loss of superannuation, employment benefits, future paid care and assistance, medical expenses, special damages and general damages he was awarded a pay-out of $1.013million.
After he repaid WorkCover he walked away with $853,002 and didn't have to pay his lawyers as BHP had to cover costs.
BHP declined to comment.