Taylor v Owners — Strata Plan No 11564

A majority of the High Court has allowed, 3:2, an appeal against a decision of the New South Wales Court of Appeal concerning a damages claim for lost expectation of financial support. After her husband was killed by a collapsed awning that belonged to the first respondent, Ms Taylor brought a fatal accident claim under the Compensation to Relatives Act 1897 (NSW), which included a claim for lost expectation of financial support. A majority of the NSWCA held that the 1897 Act was limited by the operation of s 12(2) of the Civil Liability Act 2002 (NSW) which caps damages for economic loss for ‘claimants’ gross weekly earnings’ at $2500. Section 12(2) makes no mentioned of deceased persons, but the NSWCA majority read the phrase ‘or deceased person’s’ into the section to give effect to the statute’s purpose.

The majority (French CJ, Crennan and Kiefel JJ) held that the s 12(2) limitation cannot be read as applying to a deceased person’s earnings. Noting that reading additional or omitted words into a statute is a judgment of degree, the majority reaffirmed that the court should not fill ‘gaps disclosed in legislation’ or make insertions that vary widely from the language of the statute. The deceased cannot be seen as ‘the claimant’, and reading s 12(2) as referring to the deceased’s weekly earnings cannot be reconciled with the language of the statute. The majority also rejected appellant’s argument that the s 12(2) limitation had the same purpose as a similar limitation in motor accident compensation statute, on the basis that that context may have called for a different legislative response. Rather, the purpose of s 12 is to limit the component of the award assessed against a claimant’s earnings. Gageler and Keane JJ dissented.

High Court Judgment [2014] HCA 9 2 April 2014
Result  Appeal allowed
High Court Documents Taylor
Full Court Hearing [2014] HCATrans 11  7 February 2014
Special Leave Hearing [2013] HCATrans 206 6 September 2013
Appeal from CA [2013] NSWCA 55 18 March 2013
Trial Judgment, NSWSC
[2012] NSWSC 842 27 July 2012
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About Martin Clark

Martin Clark is a PhD Candidate and Judge Dame Rosalyn Higgins Scholar at the London School of Economics and Political Science and Research Fellow at Melbourne Law School. He holds honours degrees in law, history and philosophy from the University of Melbourne, and an MPhil in Law from MLS. While at MLS, he worked as a researcher for several senior faculty members, was a 2012 Editor of the Melbourne Journal of International Law, tutor at MLS and various colleges, a Jessie Legatt Scholar, and attended the Center for Transnational Legal Studies Program.