The court of appeal recently handed down a decision concerning Medical Panels that may have wide ranging ramifications for all workcover recipients. In Kocak v Wingfoot Australia Partners Pty. Ltd. & Goodyear Tyres Pty. Ltd.  VSCA 259 the court was required to examine whether a prior Medical Panel decision was binding on a subsequent Court deciding an entitlement under the Accident Compensation Act (The Act).
The Court of Appeal found that it is binding. This means that any Medical Panel decision about a workers entitlements, such as whether they suffer from a particular injury, and whether that injury is work related, is binding on any future Court hearing matters arising under the Act. This includes statutory benefits and Serious Injury Applications. Whilst it may be beneficial to the worker where the Panel decides in their favour, if it is an unfavourable decision it may effectively strike out a worker's common law entitlements.
Workers should therefore exercise caution before referring a medical dispute from conciliation to a Medial Panel. The benefits of referring a matter to the Panel remain, however the risk should be clearly understood that any potential common law rights may also be affected by an unfavourable decision.
Because of this, the Court of Appeal also decided that in providing their opinion, doctors of the Medical Panel must provide detailed written reasons for their opinions.
This case has been appealed to the High Court. A news item will be posted once the outcome of that decision is known.