Protection from civil liability defence not available to Queensland State Government
Statutory protection from civil liability for Queensland Ambulance Service does not extend to the State of Queensland.
- Whether the State of Queensland was a ‘prescribed entity’.
- Whether the State could rely upon the protection from civil liability under the Civil Liability Act.
The plaintiff was injured in January 2012, when the stretcher she was being carried on by a paramedic collapsed, causing her to slide down and hit her head on the bitumen. The plaintiff commenced proceedings for personal injuries in the District Court against the State of Queensland (the State) as the employer of the paramedic.
The State denied liability and sought to rely upon the defence contained in section 27 of the Civil Liability Act 2003, which provides protection from civil liability to prescribed entities performing duties to enhance public safety. The Queensland Ambulance Service is one such prescribed entity.
The Decision at Trial
At first instance, the trial judge found that the paramedic was employed by the State of Queensland (not Queensland Ambulance Service) and therefore the State was vicariously liable for the actions of the paramedic.
Further, the trial judge concluded that the State was not a prescribed entity for the purposes of section 27, and therefore section 27 did not apply to relieve it from vicarious liability for the actions of the paramedic.
The Issues on Appeal
The State appealed, arguing that it was entitled to the benefit of section 27 because, in essence, the Queensland Ambulance Service is an emanation of the Crown in right.
The Decision on Appeal
The State argued that because it is not possible for the plaintiff to sue the Queensland Ambulance Service (being an unincorporated entity), the reference to “Queensland Ambulance Service” in section 27 must be interpreted as a reference to the State of Queensland.
The Court of Appeal disagreed, finding that there was no such concept as “Queensland Ambulance Service in right of the State”. There was no basis to make a finding that the Queensland Ambulance Service represented the State or was an emanation of the State. The Court of Appeal stated that there would need to be very clear language used before section 27 could be construed as removing the vicarious liability of the State for the negligent acts of its employees.
Implications for you
The decision in this case suggests that the State may face difficulty when attempting to rely upon section 27 to defend personal injury claims brought against other entities, such as the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services. The court is unlikely to interpret section 27 widely to extend the definition of a prescribed entity.