Optus topples $4m attempted murder compo case

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Optus topples $4m attempted murder compo case

Overturns damages in 15-year-old suit.

Correction 06 March 2017: A previous version of this story stated that Optus' appeal had been unsuccessful. This was incorrect and reflected only a dissenting view of one of three judges presiding over the case. iTnews apologises for any confusion caused.

Optus has successfully overturned a $3.9 million compensation ruling that originated with an attempted murder on the balcony of one of its Sydney training centres more than 15 years ago.

In March 2001, Nathaniel George - a call centre contractor attending training at the telco’s Gordon, Sydney office - attempted to throw one of his colleagues off a fourth storey balcony, after having plotted to kill him the night before.

The assailant, who was suspected of being under the influence of drugs or in a psychotic state, punched his victim before being wrestled to the ground by another Optus staff member while his target, Glenn Wright, ran free.

However Wright subsequently sued Optus for damages after he developed post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and social phobia as a result of the incident.

Wright, who did not know his assailant beyond attending the same training course, said Optus breached its duty of care towards him as an effective employee.

His successful 2009 case hinged on the actions of three Optus staff in attendance, including session trainer Natalie Hedges, who had personally asked him to go up to the fourth floor balcony to see if he could convince the assailant to come indoors.

The original trial judge deemed that it was reasonably foreseeable that Wright was placed in harm’s way when he was asked to approach someone who had been threatening him.

The judge awarded him just over $3.9 million plus costs.

But the ruling was overturned on appeal by a panel of NSW Supreme Court of Appeal justices late last week, some 16 years after the incident occurred.

Two of three judges reviewing the case agreed that Optus could not have been expected to foresee the events of March 2001, and that the original judge had "impermissably aggregated the knowledge of various employees of Optus".

"Optus did not owe a duty of care directly to Mr Wright with respect to mental harm satisfying the requirements of s 32 of the Civil Liability Act," they said.

Optus had originally faced a compensation bill of a slightly downgraded $3,340,290, plus 95 percent of Wright's court costs. This has now been anulled.

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