Can people who are committing a crime be awarded damages?

Published 28 May 2018

Practice Area: Motor Vehicle Accidents Claims, Slip & Fall Public Liability Claims

People who are seriously hurt on public or private property can often claim compensation for the injuries they sustained if they are able to prove that an individual or organisation negligently breached a duty of care.

However, does this responsibility extend to claimants who were involved in criminal activity at the time they were injured? There have been various cases worldwide where people committing an offence have attempted to win damages after suffering a serious accident.

In the much-publicised Bodine v Enterprise High School case in the US, a teenage burglar agreed an out-of-court settlement after he fell through a skylight, rendering him a paraplegic. He received a US$260,000 ($343,000) lump sum payment, plus a monthly stipend of US$1,600 for the rest of his life.

But could a similar payout occur in Queensland? Let's examine the state's liability laws to see how criminal activity affects a claim.

The Civil Liability Act and Section 45

Queensland's Civil Liability Act 2003 governs the circumstances under which claimants can pursue compensation for personal injury. Section 45 of the Act states that defendants cannot incur liability if the court is satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that:

  • The duty of care breach that led to injury occurred while the plaintiff was engaged in conduct considered an indictable offence; and
  • The individual's criminal activity contributed to the risk of harm they suffered.

Put simply, people who are involved in criminal activity at the time they were injured are generally prevented from claiming compensation. But the Act does contain an exception that enables the courts to award damages in situations where barring a plaintiff from receiving compensation is harsh or unjust.

The legislation does not provide specific examples of what constitutes harsh or unjust treatment, which is why potential claimants should always contact an experienced personal injury lawyer to discuss the specifics of their case.

Discounted damages for criminal activity claims

Plaintiffs who convince the courts that rejecting a claim would be harsh or unjust still receive a penalty if they are awarded damages. The eventual payout is reduced by at least 25 per cent, although this is judged on a case-by-case basis and can be a higher proportion. Individuals must therefore weigh up whether it is financially prudent to pursue damages.

Please get in touch with Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyer today and we will provide a free consultation to assess your claim.