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Flight attendant wins historic High Court case

Flight attendant Joanne Turner was travelling between Sydney and Brisbane on a BA 146 aircraft during the course of her employment on 4 March 1992. When the aircraft descended into Brisbane a thick cloud of white grey smoke poured through the vents into the cabin for about 20 minutes.

The smoke was emitted as a result of oil in the auxiliary power unit undergoing a process of pyrolysis, the thermal decomposition of the organic material in oil without combustion.

There was evidence of cabin smells in the BA aircraft from the time they were acquired in 1990, a worldwide problem known to the operator, East West Airlines. The predominant problem from the beginning was with engine seals and over a period of time this problem was eventually resolved.

Ms Turner immediately suffered from the effects of the smoke including coughing, a burning sensation in her throat, sore eyes and a headache. She has suffered with a persistent cough ever since.

Turner Freeman commenced proceedings in the Dust Diseases Tribunal of New South Wales in 2001 against her employer East West Airlines Limited claiming damages caused by East Wests’ negligence in relation to the operation of its aircraft.

After three weeks of hearings Judge Kearns found that Ms Turner had suffered from a cough ever since breathing in the pyrolysed effects of Mobil Jet Oil II on 4 March 1992 and that these effects are harmful to the lungs. Her airways had been irritated resulting in a cough that had remained for some 17 years and was likely to continue for the remainder of her life. Ms Turner succeeded in her claim. She was awarded $138,757.20 for non-economic loss, loss of earning capacity, out of pocket expenses and compensation for domestic services provided to her as a result of her condition.

East West Airlines appealed to the Court of Appeal. On 1 April 2010 the Court of Appeal  dismissed the Appeal.

An application for special leave to appeal was lodged by East West Airlines in the High Court of Australia and heard on 3 September 2010.

East West Airlines sought leave to appeal from the Court of Appeal’s judgment only on the question of whether the Dust Diseases Tribunal had jurisdiction. They argued that Ms Turner’s condition was caused by ingesting oil smoke which was not a dust so that she did not suffer with a dust related condition.

Joanne was relieved and delighted when the High Court of Australia dismissed the application for special leave to appeal.

The dismissal of the appeal brought to an end Joanne’s brave 18 year fight for compensation. She is the first worker to succeed in an action for damages for injuries suffered whilst flying in the BA 146 aircraft. The Judgment has received international attention from other claimants who hope to build on Joanne’s success in other countries.


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