A Norlane man who exposed unsafe work practices at the Southern Cross Station passenger yards has settled his case against V/Line out of court.
David Cooke took the regional carrier to the Geelong Country Court earlier this year seeking compensation for serious knee injuries he suffered as a result of his work as a shunter.
Slater and Gordon workcover lawyer Simone Welsh said V-Line had agreed to settle the case after the court heard Mr Cooke’s injuries were caused by dangerous work practices at the yards, where workers were regularly required to jump from moving trains and platforms in the process of coupling and uncoupling carriages.
Ms Welsh said V/Line had strenuously denied the allegations but a turning point in the case came during the trial when the court was shown footage of shunters working in the passenger yards at Southern Cross Station.
The footage, obtained by Slater and Gordon, clearly showed shunters jumping or stepping off moving trains, despite V/Line’s insistence that this practice was prohibited.
“The footage provided proof that unsafe work practices were still common at Southern Cross years after David’s injuries first became apparent in 2005,” Ms Welsh said.
“V/Line threw a lot of resources into fighting our client’s argument that the system of work was unsafe and to his enormous credit he stuck to his guns and this is a great result for a hard-working Victorian.”
The court also heard that during the period of redevelopment of Southern Cross Station in 2004 and 2005, all shunters in the yards were under considerable time pressures to make sure the trains still ran to time despite the works.
It heard less platforms were available for trains to pull in to, meaning more coupling and uncoupling of carriages had to be done in the passenger yards where the rocky ballast surface of the ground was a hazard.
“The time pressures also meant shunters had to step off moving trains while they were being shunted around the yard to save time on a lengthy walk back from the end of the shunt,” Ms Welsh said.
She said many of Mr Cooke’s colleagues also started suffering injuries as a result of the increased time pressures, which often meant working right through a shift without a break. Mr Cooke and other V-Line staff were forced to take on more shifts and work faster as staff began taking more time off sick or injured.
After Mr Cooke first noticed severe pain in his knees in 2005, he saw an orthopaedic surgeon who performed surgery on his right knee but the pain persisted. He underwent various courses of cortisone injections in an attempt to manage his pain.
In October 2011, Slater and Gordon obtained a serious injury certificate on Mr Cooke’s behalf which allowed him to seek common law damages against V/Line.
Before his injury, Mr Cooke was a keen cyclist and would ride his bike to the train station every morning to go to work. As he has never held a driver’s licence, his bike was also his main mode of transport. Cookie found that his knee pain stopped him from being able to ride his bike and as a result, his weight increased drastically.
“David has had to go through a lot and we just hope this outcome will help him move on with his life,” Ms Welsh.