Foreman awarded $1.4 million after being buried chest high after excavation collapses

Mar 14, 2023 | Publication

Mr Cootes was employed as a foreman on a construction site, when he suffered serious injuries following an excavation collapsed on him. The collapsed excavation caused fractures to his lower back, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The plaintiff brought claims for damages against his employer Concrete Panels, the principal contractor, and the site supervisor. 

The incident occurred when the plaintiff attempted to retrieve a drill he noticed laying at the bottom of the trench when the excavation suddenly collapsed. His rescuer found Mr Cootes buried to the top of his chest. The trench was 700mm deep, however, to one side sat a 2.6m high excavation ‘face’.

The plaintiff had previously complained about the safety of the trench, and raised concerns of it caving in. The first defendant argued for 50% contributory negligence, however, Crow J found that although it was a misjudgement, it should not be judged with the benefit of hindsight and did not accept the argument of contributory negligence.

The Court found in favour of the plaintiff and found a duty of care was owed to the plaintiff from all three defendants, and that duty was breached. The total assessment of damages was awarded at $548,612.95 for the first defendant, and $909,504 for the second and third defendant.

The decision of Cootes v Concrete Panels & Ors  QSC 146 (Crow J) can be read in full here: https://www.queenslandjudgments.com.au/caselaw/qsc/2019/146 

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