Directors’ liability for legal costs

Posted on June 25th, 2018

A cautionary tale for directors who might think they can hide behind a “corporate veil” and avoid personal exposure.  Parties to a complicated dispute settled the dispute and entered into consent orders.   Subsequently, an application was made against one plaintiff company to enforce the consent orders.  The company had failed to execute all necessary documents.  When the plaintiff company continued to fail to comply, the Supreme Court (Tasmania) made an order under section 169 Supreme Court Civil Procedure Act 1932 (Tas) empowering the Registrar of the Court to execute the documents instead.  The Defendant then sought a costs order for the cost of enforcing the orders.  Read the rest of this entry »

Bankruptcy and the “slip rule”

Posted on June 13th, 2018

Bankruptcy and the "slip rule"Most of us understand that once a judgment in a Court case is entered, it is final (except for any appeal rights). One minor exception, commonly known as the ‘slip rule’, is where an obvious error was made in a judgment or order. In the case of such an error, it can be corrected under the slip rule without the necessity for an appeal.

Slip rule applications are relatively rare. Even rarer was the situation that arose in 2016 when the Court was asked to make a slip rule correction to a judgment affecting a person who had become bankrupt. Under the Bankruptcy Act when a person becomes bankrupt, a creditor cannot “take any fresh step” in Court proceedings, except by leave. The issue the Supreme Court had to determine, was whether making a correction under the slip rule amounted to a “fresh step”. If so, the correction was not possible except by leave of the Federal Court (as opposed to the Supreme Court, where the proceedings had been instituted). Read the rest of this entry »

Lower than expected service leads to compensation

Posted on June 13th, 2018

Lower than expected service leads to compensationThe Applicants contracted the Respondents to arrange their wedding reception at a venue overlooking Sydney Harbour. At 4 PM on the big day a pipe burst causing a flood.

The Respondents did not own the venue and did not cause the leak. The Respondents notified the building Manager as soon as they became aware of the leak.  The reception was briefly delayed, tablecloths were placed on the wet floor, the room reconfigured to avoid the water leak, and buckets collected dripping water.

The tribunal was satisfied the respondent had not breached its guarantee to provide the services with “due care and skill” because it took measures to alleviate the problem. It was however satisfied that the water leak and slight delay made the reception not fit for purpose and the guarantee was unaffected by the fact the respondent did not cause the leak. Read the rest of this entry »

Costs – who pays when each party has some success

Posted on April 4th, 2018

The Supreme Court recently issued a cost decision that grapples with an issue that occasionally arises once litigation is finalised.  That is, if there are several issues in dispute in the proceeding, and both parties have some measure of success on various issues, who should pay costs?

The usual rule is that ‘costs follow the event’.  That is, the successful litigant usually gets an order that the unsuccessful litigant should pay their costs.  Costs are not intended to be a penalty but rather to recompense the successful litigant for the cost of vindicating their rights.  Where one party is wholly successful, they would ordinarily expect a costs order in their favour.

It is less easy to apply that ‘rule’ where each party has some, but not total, success. Read the rest of this entry »

Jones v Dunkel – the problem of not calling a witness at a hearing

Posted on April 4th, 2018

Most lawyers know the case Jones v Dunkel: in general terms, it is authority for the proposition that if a party does not call a witness who can apparently give evidence about a matter in dispute, the failure to call them allows the Court infer that the evidence of that person would not assist the party. This is one of the reasons why witnesses are often required to give evidence, even though they may not be of particular assistance to a litigant – to avoid an unfavourable inference if they are not called.

A recent Supreme Court decision, dealing with an insurance policy dispute, led to a discussion of the so called “Jones v Dunkel inference”.  The plaintiff made a decision not to call a number of witnesses at trial; and the defendant asked the Court to make a Jones v Dunkel inference. In dealing with that argument, the Court summarised the principles or considerations that are at play in deciding whether such an inference should be drawn. In particular, the Court suggested that it is the person asking for the inference to be drawn (that is, the opponent of the litigant who did not call the witness) who must prove two fundamental things namely:- Read the rest of this entry »

Liability in the absence of a therapeutic relationship

Posted on April 4th, 2018

The NSW Court of Appeal recently found a medical treatment provider was liable for personal injury, even though there was never a therapeutic relationship with the person who was injured.

Briefly, a Mr Mason suffered from psychological illness for which he was taking medication. He was remanded in custody on criminal charges, to Parklea Correctional Centre. It was privately operated by GEO Group under contract with the State Government. The contract required GEO to provide psychological and counselling services to inmates.

When Mr Mason was processed at Parklea, he told employees of GEO about his conditions and medications, but he was not prescribed any replacement drugs nor referred for counselling or other treatment. Days later, he jumped from a high level landing and suffered personal injury. He then sued GEO for those personal injuries. That case settled, but a related claim between GEO and its insurer continued because the insurer contended that its policy did not provide cover unless GEO had actually provided (medical) services. Read the rest of this entry »

Rental car agreements & drink driving

Posted on April 3rd, 2018

It is a common provision in car rental agreements that if the car is damaged as a result of the driver breaching a law in force where the accident occurs, insurance coverage will not be available. The clauses are often drafted to cover a wide range of breaches of the law but that would almost always include an accident that occurs when the driver was “over the limit” for blood alcohol.

One of the features of the Insurance Contracts Act, which governs a number of classes of insurance policies including car rental agreements, is that if there is a “technical” breach of the policy, but that particular breach did not cause the loss or increase the risk of loss, the insurer may not be able to refuse cover. However, that principle only applies where a policy of insurance exists – as Gardam’s case shows, it has no application to a document (such as a rental agreement) that is not an insurance contract. Read the rest of this entry »

Who’s liable for unsafe rental premises?

Posted on January 11th, 2018

The N.S.W. Court of Appeal recently considered the respective liabilities of a landlord, managing agent and tenant arising out of the collapse of a balcony at a rental property at Collaroy, on the Northern Beaches of Sydney (Libra Collaroy Pty Limited v Bhide).

In 2005, the landlord engaged a real estate agent to manage their residential rental property pursuant to a Management Agreement. During the tenancy, the tenant raised numerous issues concerning the state of repair of the upstairs balcony. The managing agent obtained quotes for repairs and forwarded these to the landlord however these were not acted on.

In 2012, the balcony collapsed injuring 4 people, including the tenant’s daughter. The 4 injured persons commenced proceedings against the landlord and the managing agent for their injuries and the tenant also commenced proceedings against the landlord and the managing agent for psychological injury. The landlord and managing agent issued cross claims against each other and also against the tenant. Read the rest of this entry »

Representing the interests of non-unionised workers

Posted on December 14th, 2017

On 13 December 2017 the High Court delivered a decision in a case of Regional Express Holdings Limited v Australian Federation of Air Pilots [2017] HCA55.

The central issue in dispute was whether an industrial association (such as a union, or other representative body) was entitled to represent workers who were not members of the industrial organisation.

The short facts were that Regional Express (REX) had written to a number of its pilots to the effect that if they made claims for accommodation costs during layovers, they would not be given command roles.  The Australian Federation of Air Pilots (AFAP), a representative body for commercial pilots, commenced proceedings alleging REX’s letter contravened a number of workplace rights.  None of the individuals to whom REX had written, were actually members of AFAP.  REX applied to summarily dismiss the proceedings on the basis that AFAP was not “entitled to represent the industrial interests of” individuals who were not members of its organisation. Read the rest of this entry »

National Domestic Violence Scheme commences

Posted on November 29th, 2017

Each State and Territory has passed model amendments to existing domestic violence legislation to enable the consistent recognition of  interstate orders. The terminology and laws remain unique to each jurisdiction, as do the conditions in the orders.  The key elements of the Scheme include:

  • A domestic violence order (DVO) made in any Australian State or Territory on or after 25 November 2017, is automatically recognised and enforceable in each other State and Territory. They include final and interim orders.
  • Applications to vary a nationally recognised order can be made in any State or Territory.  Read the rest of this entry »

Urgent applications, preservation orders and third party rights

Posted on November 1st, 2017

Many courts in Australia have processes that allow applications to be made before any formal litigation is commenced.  In the Federal Court, one form of ‘pre-litigation’ application that can be made, relates to the preservation of property or information that may be relevant to a later, substantive, claim. 

A recent example was where a software designer suspected a former employee had taken, and was using, its confidential information for the benefit of a direct competitor.  It sought orders for access to the ex-employee’s computers and other electronic devices for the purposes of copying their contents in order to preserve information that may be relevant to a future substantive claim. Read the rest of this entry »

When is a judgment final?

Posted on November 1st, 2017

There are some specific circumstances in which a Court will ‘go behind’ a judgment – even though it remains ‘on the record’ of a court and has not been set aside by appeal. One such circumstance is in bankruptcy proceedings. Although a judgment is ‘prima facie’ proof of a debt, in bankruptcy a judgment is never conclusive proof that a debt exists.

Where, for example, a judgment was entered by default (that is, the debtor did not actively defend the claim) a Bankruptcy Court can, and often does, look behind the judgment to see if there was a genuine debt upon which the judgment was based.  This generally occurs in circumstances where the debtor is seeking to set aside a Bankruptcy Notice or Creditor’s Petition, based on the judgment.  Read the rest of this entry »

Is your website a ‘business record’?

Posted on October 31st, 2017

Most of us understand, at least generally, that for material to be considered by a trial judge in the course of a hearing it must comply with the ‘rules of evidence’.  Both under the common law and under both the NSW and Commonwealth Evidence Acts, one class of material that can generally be given in evidence is ‘business records’.  The broad theory behind this is that businesses will generally maintain accurate records of how they have been conducted (for example as to who their customers are, what revenues they generate, how they carry out production etc) and that their historical records are therefore generally reliable material for the purpose of a court making decisions.

However when the ‘record’ is in the nature of advertising or promotional material, while it is certainly a document created by a business, the courts tend to be much more cautious as to whether these are ‘business records’ in the relevant sense.  The distinction seems to be whether documents are records of a business; or the product of it.  Consequently in recent times the courts have rejected attempts to tender, as business records, both corporate magazines (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v Air New Zealand Limited (No. 5) [2012] FCA 1479 and extracts from a company’s web page (Clipsal Australia Pty Limited v Clipso Electrical Pty Limited (No. 43) [2017] FCA 60).  Read the rest of this entry »

Legal practitioners acting against previous clients

Posted on October 23rd, 2017

In what circumstances is a lawyer permitted to act against a previous client? The Supreme Court of New South Wales recently addressed this matter in Gujarat NRE India Pty Ltd v Wollongong Coal Limited [2017] NSWSC 209

The proceedings were conducted by way of a compressed urgent hearing which was held shortly before the main proceedings. The main proceedings were between Gujarat NRE India Pty Ltd (“NRE“) and Wollongong Coal Limited (“Wollongong Coal“). NRE was suing Wollongong Coal for damages suffered by NRE as a result of a default by Wollongong Coal under a commercial agreement for which NRE had guaranteed the obligations of Wollongong Coal.

The commercial agreement was called the Override Deed and enter into July 2013. The Override Deed required Wollongong Coal to pay $20,411,033.00 to a third party, UIL (Singapore) Pty Ltd. Wollongong Coal defaulted under the Override Deed and NRE was required to pay the balance in full to UIL.  Read the rest of this entry »

Think before you terminate!

Posted on August 15th, 2017

If you are thinking of terminating a contract that is of any significance, you must obtain legal advice prior to doing so.

Too often we see people take action to terminate a contract as a result of circumstances that they consider entitle them to terminate the contract and suffer significant consequences as a result.

If you terminate a contract or attempt to terminate a contract in circumstances where you are strictly not entitled to, or do so in an inappropriate manner, the other party may be entitled to treat your termination or attempted termination of the contract as a repudiation of the contract. Read the rest of this entry »

Casual employees to have the right to become permanent

Posted on July 7th, 2017

On 5 July 2017, as part of its four yearly review of modern awards, the Fair Work Commission issued a decision dealing with casual employment.

A significant outcome of that decision is a recommendation that (subject to conditions) casual employees will have a right to be converted to permanent employment.

At least part of the reasoning behind the decision is that many of the “basic” entitlements of the National Employment Standards are not available to casuals. For example, where two workers were engaged by the same employer and both had worked for extended periods of time, a permanent worker would have the benefit of the National Employment Standards safety net, but a casual would not. The Fair Work Commission considered that was an unfair outcome, even though casual workers typically were paid an additional loading. The decision also took into account, amongst other things, the relative disadvantage that casual workers experienced in trying to obtain loans from financial institutions.  Read the rest of this entry »

Anti-bullying laws and company directors

Posted on July 4th, 2017

We generally do not think of company directors as “workers”. However a recent Fair Work Commission decision says that directors are workers – at least for the purpose of its anti-bullying powers.

The anti-bullying part of the Fair Work Act says that “workers” are eligible to make an anti-bullying application. A “worker” is defined by reference to the Work, Health & Safety Act 2011 which itself lists a number of classes of activity that amount to being a “worker”. A company director is not included in the list; but the general description includes a ‘person carrying out work in any capacity for a person conducting a business or undertaking’.  Read the rest of this entry »

Changes to unfair dismissal threshold

Posted on July 4th, 2017

The “high income threshold” is the figure above which an employee is not eligible to bring a claim for unfair dismissal relief, unless their employment is covered by an award or enterprise agreement. Each year, the high income threshold for unfair dismissal claims is indexed upwards.

The components of remuneration that count towards to high income threshold are wages, money paid on a worker’s behalf (for example salary sacrifice towards non-concessional superannuation contributions; or to vehicle leases and the like) and the agreed value of non-monetary benefits (for example the provision of electronic devices).  Read the rest of this entry »

Workers’ duty to communicate when absent through illness

Posted on April 13th, 2017

Even when absent due to legitimate illness or injury, workers have to stay in communication with their employer, or they may be dismissed. 

Mr Laviano was absent from work for an extended period due to a psychological injury.  He had received medical advice not to read or access any communication from his employer for a part of that absence – a period of about two months – but that advice was not passed onto the employer.  During this time, the employer wrote to him advising of a medical appointment.   Read the rest of this entry »

Assignment of contracts – pre-existing knowledge

Posted on March 27th, 2017

Where contractual rights are assigned; can the recipient’s pre-existing knowledge invalidate those rights?

In Walker Group Constructions Pty Limited v Tzaneros Investments Pty Limited [2017] NSWCA 27 just such an issue arose.

The case is both factually and legally complex but the relevant parts can be summarised as follows. Walker constructed some concrete pavements at the Port Botany Container Terminal. The construction contract included warranties to make good any defects in the construction. At the time of the construction, the relevant land was leased by P&O. The lease was later transferred to Tzaneros as was the benefit of the warranties to Tzaneros.
Read the rest of this entry »