The NSW Court of Appeal has upheld the decision of a Worker’s Compensation Commission Arbitrator to require the Nominal Insurer to pay workers compensation death benefits to the children of domestic violence victim Michel Carroll. Ms Carroll was killed in her home at Wamberal in 2010 on the Central Coast by her then partner, Steven Leslie Hill. Both were working from home at the time for Mr Hill’s family business.
Mr Hill was charged with her murder but found not guilty on the ground of mental illness. Mr Hill had been reportedly been suffering from schizophrenia and having paranoid delusions that Ms Carroll was going to ‘steal his clients’ and had become paranoid that she was being unfaithful to him.
Following her death, the company was deregistered and the claim was brought against the nominal insurer for workers compensation payments for the surviving children who had been aged 16 years and a newborn baby at the time of her death. Her 16 year old son had discovered her body in the ensuite of the home when he returned home from school.
In December 2018, a Workers Compensation Commission Arbitrator determined that Ms Carroll died as a result of injury arising out of and in the course of her employment and ordered payments in total of $449,850 in favour of the two children, in accordance with the Workplace Injury Management and Workers Compensation Act 1998 (NSW) (“Workplace Injury Act”). The Nominal Insurer appealed this determination and in July 2019, Deputy President Wood dismissed this appeal. The Nominal Insurer then appealed to the NSW Court of Appeal.
In dismissing the appeal, the Court of Appeal noted that the Deputy President and Arbitrator had considered in detail whether Mr Hill’s assault was causally connected with Ms Carroll’s employment and found that there was a palpable and direct connection between Mr Hill’s delusions, Ms Carroll’s employment and her death. The fact that the connection involved a delusion did not prevent it being a causal connection.
The Arbitrator had referred to the belief which Mr Hill held that Ms Carroll was conspiring with ASIC and AMP to take away his clients and accreditation as a financial planner, accessing his computer, spying on him and recording his conversations. The Arbitrator referred to:
“[Mr Hill’s] evidence that he became preoccupied and focussed on Ms Carroll’s activities which led him to suffer a new delusion that she was being unfaithful. The Arbitrator further referred to the evidence that [Mr Hill] required Ms Carroll to undertake a lie detector examination, paid for by [the employer] and principally in relation to employment issues, but included asking her about her fidelity.”
Other relevant issues were the locations where Ms Carroll undertook her duties at home and work practices. This included in a home office and in the bedroom which contained work files where she often worked and fed a newborn baby. It was found that Ms Carroll was required to be available to attend to calls or work matters throughout the day and was effectively ‘on call’.
This decision will likely increase the need for safety assessments to be conducted by employers who have employees working from home who may be at risk of domestic and family violence in the home.
Workers Compensation Nominal Insurer v Hill  NSWCA 54
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