Decorated paramedic denied full compensation for ‘seriously injured’ shoulder

Mr Gatt injured his shoulder when he was on board a helicopter which crashed in the Blue Mountains in 1993.

Mr Gatt injured his shoulder when he was on board a helicopter which crashed in the Blue Mountains in 1993.Credit:Troy Howe

Two doctors who assessed Mr Gatt as part of his claim found he had ongoing problems with his shoulder after he was involved in a helicopter crash during a search for a bushwalker in the Blue Mountains in February 1993.

In his judgment on Wednesday, Justice Stephen Campbell said Mr Gatt «released his harness to restrain a colleague who was sitting in the open doorway» of the helicopter and suffered injuries, including to his right shoulder, which gave him «ongoing trouble».

Justice Campbell said it was «indisputable» that Mr Gatt developed arthritis in his shoulder as a consequence of the «traumatic injuries» in his employment, including the helicopter crash and the 2011 injury.

Because Mr Gatt’s claim was limited to the 2011 injury, an appeal panel convened by the Workers Compensation Commission found he had «longstanding degenerative changes» from a «number of prior injuries» including the helicopter crash.

He was assessed to have a total impairment of 21 per cent, which was reduced to 5 per cent when excluding his prior injuries. Under workers compensation legislation, lump sum compensation is denied where permanent impairment is 10 per cent or less. However, paramedics are exempt.

Mr Gatt applied for a judicial review of the decision in his case, but the proceedings were dismissed after it was found the appeal panel did not make an error. Mr Gatt was ordered to pay the costs of NSW Ambulance.

In an addendum to his judgment, Justice Campbell said he «assiduously» applied the law but cannot leave the case without observing that Mr Gatt has «what is obviously, in ordinary language, a seriously injured right shoulder».

«The legal outcome here strikes me as most unfortunate involving, as it does, the law denying an obviously deserving claimant the full lump sum compensation he could legitimately expect to receive for an obviously serious consequence of a series of injuries received at work with the one employer,» Justice Campbell said.

He said it was not necessary or appropriate for him to canvass why Mr Gatt made a claim on the 2011 injury alone.

Mr Gatt has previously been awarded a Distinguished Service Medal – the highest award in NSW Ambulance – to recognise his bravery in rescuing two rock climbers who had fallen onto a small ledge 250 metres down a 400-metre cliff face in the Blue Mountains.

Harry Gatt (second from left) was presented with an award to recognise his bravery.

Harry Gatt (second from left) was presented with an award to recognise his bravery.Credit:NSW Ambulance

In an award ceremony, Mr Gatt was lauded for his «conspicuous bravery» during the «extremely difficult» rescue, which involved being winched onto a slippery ledge. He has worked for NSW Ambulance since 1980.

Update: This story was updated on April 30 to reflect changes made to a NSW Supreme Court judgment. The amended judgment detailed that Mr Gatt is entitled to lump sum compensation for whole person impairment less than 10%, under a legislative exemption for paramedics. 

Georgina Mitchell is a court reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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