An exhausted vineyard worker who crashed into a tree driving home from work has won a compensation case.
An exhausted vineyard worker who crashed into a tree driving home from work has won a compensation case.

Tired worker’s landmark compo win

A sleep-deprived worker who suffered a serious head injury when he crashed into a tree has been awarded workers compensation after a five-year-legal battle.

The Supreme Court ordered last month that the vineyard worker's long hours during vintage had increased the risk of an accident and that as a result the injuries were compensable.

It was the second judgment in as many weeks by the full sitting of the state's highest court which has the potential to expand the rights of injured workers to compensation.

Law Society president Tim White told The Advertiser that while the judgment related to a now inactive workers compensation scheme, the terms defined by the court could still impact on future cases.

"It is likely that the Supreme Court judgment may encourage, rather than discourage, workers who are injured on a journey to or from work to claim that the conditions of their employment increased the risk of the circumstances that resulted in an injury, even if there is no clear, direct link between the employment and the injury," he said.

"It will be interesting to see the outcomes of future cases where the links between the nature of the employment and injuries caused on journeys to and from the workplace are less clear."

The appeal overturned two earlier decisions by the South Australian Employment Tribunal, both of which refused to award compensation.

The worker was employed by a vineyard in the Barossa Valley in 2015.

Sometime between 2.30am and 3.30am on February 7 that year, the worker crashed into a tree on rural stretch of road.

He was driving to accommodation 25km away from the vineyard which had been organised by his employer.

The worker suffered serious head injuries in the crash which affected his ability to remember how many hours he had worked before crashing into the tree.

The South Australian Employment Tribunal heard evidence that the worker had told a colleague that he had worked a 21-hour shift, but this was never substantiated.

Time sheets before the Tribunal showed the worker's shifts had shifted between starting times, from 2am to 7am to 4pm.

The worker told the Tribunal that he was struggling to sleep during the day.

Two sleep specialists gave contrasting views about the cause of the crash and did not make a conclusion about whether the worker was sleep-deprived.

A road crash expert said the crash was indicative of a driver who had fallen asleep behind the wheel and drifted off the road.

Chief Justice Chris Kourakis said the Tribunal decision to refused compensation was "inadequate a law" because it did not address the combined strength of evidence that the worker had been sleep-deprived.

"I would hold that on a proper construction of the subsection, it is not necessary to establish a causal connection," he said.

"It is sufficient if the employment increased the risk of accidents of the kind in which the worker was injured."

Originally published as Tired worker's landmark compo win