WORKSAFE payments totalling more than $100,000 will be paid to two former employees of Community Connections as the slew of legal claims against the controversial former welfare agency gathers momentum.
Creon Coolahan, from Stringer Clark lawyers in Warrnambool, said the payments recommended by a medical panel could be “the start of an avalanche of claims for damages made by former Community Connections staff against their old employer”.
He said there was already legal action in the magistrates court by another six former Community Connections staff against the agency.
In total, about a dozen former employees have claims against the agency and Mr Coolahan estimated that if his firm was successful in half of the common law proceedings, total damages could exceed more than $1 million.
A number of other Community Connections staff have already accepted out-of-court settlements after first initiating action in the magistrates court.
On the latest findings, a medical panel has recommended the payments of more than $100,000 after finding the two former Community Connections staff suffered psychological injuries.
The two staff who lodged the compensation claims had been working in a supported accommodation service operated by Community Connections.
They said they had been the subject of bullying and had clients placed in their care who were violent and unpredictable.
The staff said they were not given proper support to deal with those clients who should have been placed in a more specific environment.
The programs have since been taken over by other agencies following the state government’s decision in late 2011 to terminate its service contracts with Community Connections following a series of investigations.
Mr Coolahan said the medical panel found the psychological injuries suffered by one of the staff prevented that person from performing any further work, while the other staff member had suffered a lesser disability.
Mr Coolahan said it appeared the case of one of the staff members had been referred from the magistrates court to the medical panel to avoid former Community Connections managers from having to give evidence in court.
The medical panel’s findings could lead to further legal action by the two former staff members, he said.
“I am aware of the Australian Services Union having raised serious concerns about the operation of these services in the past, in particular that staff were being exposed to unacceptable levels of risk from clients, and that training had been inadequate,” Mr Coolahan said.
Those concerns led him to believe there were strong grounds for claiming negligence by Community Connections’ management.