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NSW: court finds employer liable to pay workers compensation for employee who died of COVID-19 during a business trip.

16 November 2021

In the recent case of Sara v G & S Sara Pty Ltd, the Personal Injury Commission of New South Wales found that an organisation was liable for the death of its employee who contracted and died from COVID-19 in the course of his employment. In addition, the organisation was liable to pay compensation to his widow.  

What is the background to the case? 

Georges Sara contracted COVID-19 in July 2020 when he travelled to the USA for work. He died in November 2020 after several months of hospitalisation in New York.  

Mr Sara’s widow (the applicant) claimed compensation for the period of his hospitalisation as well as the medical costs ($US11 million). She argued that Mr Sara’s employer was liable to pay these costs under NSW’s worker’s compensation laws.  

In response, Mr Sara’s employer argued that it was not liable for his death on the grounds that Mr Sara did not contract COVID-19 in the course of his employment but rather through a social setting outside work.

The court, therefore, had to determine whether Mr Sara contracted COVID-19 in the course of his employment. 

What did the court decide? 

The court found that Mr Sara contracted the virus while travelling from Sydney to New York. As such, they concluded that he became infected in the course of his employment as the travel was part of a work-related trip. It did not matter what activity he was undertaking when he contracted the virus as the impetus for the trip was work-related. Mr Sara’s widow received a dependency payment of $834,200. However, the payment of medical expenses is yet to be determined.  

Read the full decision in Sara v G & S Sara Pty Ltd

What are possible implications for other employers? 

The case shows that employers may be held liable if their staff contract COVID-19 at work and should be aware of the COVID-19 risks that their employees could be exposed to as part of their employment. The risks may be just as important (or even more important) now that Australia is living with COVID cases and no longer pursuing a COVID eradication strategy.  

Work related travel (international, interstate or local), should be accompanied by risk assessments and safety considerations.  

Employers should consider what vaccination policies they could implement in order to manage the risk of staff contracting COVID-19 while at work.  

We have a range of resources to help you out with these issues: