Woolworths has been ordered to compensate a staffer at its Kiama store after the woman’s eye was “severely injured” by a vicious swooping bird known to guard the entryway to the shopping complex.
Anita Smith was almost inside the Kiama Village Shopping Centre when the bird, a native peewee, set her in its sights on May 14.
She required surgery in mid-July to repair the resulting injury, described in a compensation claim as an “inturned central part of the right eye flap”.
Ms Smith, a customer service officer for the supermarket since 2010, was among at least 10 people who required medical attention as a result of the bird’s attacks, according to an area ophthalmologist interviewed by Fairfax at the time.
In a decision handed down last month, the Workers Compensation Commission ordered the supermarket to pay Ms Smith almost $17,000 in lost wages. The sum was calculated after 25 weeks of reduced employment. The company must also pay Ms Smith’s medical and rehabilitation bills.
The commission rejected Woolworths Ltd’s submission that the incident had nothing to do with Ms Smith’s employment.
Counsel for the supermarket had argued she was “not performing any work” at the time of the injury.
A Woolworths store manager had earlier denied liability, instead placing blame on centre management for not acting.
“Centre management had previously been informed regarding a number of bird attacks and chose to do nothing about this until this and other serious incidents happened”, the company countered, in its submission.
Ms Smith was en route to her workplace when she was attacked. She left her car in the staff car park before walking along an open-air path towards the shopping centre’s automatic sliding doors.
The commission’s arbitrator, John Harris, found an employer does not escape liability due to the fault of another party “in this case, the apparent failure by the centre management to do something about the dangerous peewee”.
Ms Smith’s employment brought her to the point where the injury occurred and that the injury “arose out of the employment”, Mr Harris found.
“It is extremely unlikely that Ms Smith would have been attacked by the peewee at that time, had she not been in the course of her employment.”
The commission noted Kiama council had made attempts – ultimately futile – to deter the bird by placing two imitation owls in the area.
The bird was eventually destroyed after Kiama council sought a permit from National Parks and Wildlife to cull the bird.
Council workers cordoned off the area before the bird was shot dead on June 20.