Surf Life Saving Queensland facing legal threat

Published: 12 August 2017 Image credit: Surf Life Saving Australia

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They’re some of our biggest Aussie heroes. Swim between the red and yellow flags, and you can count on a surf lifesaver to help you if you get into trouble.

But, the cause is under threat… by the very people being rescued.

 “We self-insure for the first $50,000 of every claim and because many are in the low range, we’re taking quite a few hits,’’ Surf Life Saving Queensland (SLSQ) administration and compliance manager Craig Williams told The Courier Mail.

“The impact of the litigation is significant and it means we have to fundraise more and, obviously, money that should be spent protecting beachgoers is going towards paying these people.’’

SLSQ has been slammed with 32 recent claims against them, with about $1 million in related costs – and most of them are being launched by stricken swimmers who had to be attended to by a lifesaver.

This includes a beachgoer injured in a clash with a surfer 300 metres from the patrol zone in Noosa, a woman who alleges she sustained psychological and psychical damages after contact with an Inflatable Rescue Boat, and a triathlete who almost drowned because of a medical episode in Northern Queensland.

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One of the claims was made by a swimmer who clashed with a surfer 300m from the patrol zone. Image: AIM

Even a city council is suing the organisation after one of its lifeguards fell on wet tiles and was injured in a shower area in a local club.

Mr Williams says that the rise of no-win, no-fee “billboard” lawyers, who exploit opportunities, are to blame for the amount of people looking to cash in on incidents and accidents at beaches.

And, while it’s argued that these lawyers would only take on a case on the grounds of legal merit, experts claim that Queensland’s Personal Injuries Proceedings Act (PIPA) – which is intended to make a personal injuries claim a swifter process – might be encouraging people to make a claim because they have nothing to lose.  

“[There are] no-costs consequences for pursuing unmeritorious claims in the PIPA phase of claims, or mechanism available to a respondent served with a spurious claim to have it disposed of summarily,” a legal expert told The Courier Mail.

“As a respondent served has no recourse to recover costs from the PIPA phase, considerable cost can be incurred, and faced with the threat of this being magnified in litigation, a respondent, or their insurer, is often faced with the dilemma that a claim can be settled for a smaller sum than may be expended in legal costs to contest the matter.’’

Even now, SLSQ are facing losses of about $500,000 just from current cases, and the ugly trend is only set to continue as the market for no-win no-fee lawyers increases.

A few of the cases that have stacked up against the SLSQ, according to The Courier Mail, are:

Status: Ongoing

A man suffered serious spinal injuries while being arrested outside of Surfers Paradise SLSC. He had run on to club property, and police, in detaining him, pushed him up against a block wall that collapsed and resulted in the man falling three metres into the underground car park.

Status: Ongoing

A surf lifesaver launched a claim for an ankle injury sustained while he was performing water safety duties in an IRB. A tradesman, he lost his job because of the injury, but had received a hefty payout.

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Volunteer and employed surf lifesavers have also made claims against the organisation. Image: SLSQ

Status: Finalised

Another volunteer launched action after suffering a severe leg fracture during a Rescue Water Craft (jet ski) driving course.

Status: Ongoing

A member of the public lodged a claim after tripping over a raised section of footpath while walking to the toilets at Port Douglas.

Status: Finalised

A patron launched action after slipping and falling on liquid near the bar at Noosa Heads Surf Life Saving Supporters’ Club.