Australian government worker loses compensation case for sex injury

CANBERRA, Australia -- Australia's highest court on Wednesday denied workers' compensation to a government employee who was injured while having sex in a motel room during a business trip.

The 4-1 decision from the High Court said the woman's employer did not induce or encourage her to participate in the sex, so the federal government's insurer, Comcare, was not liable to compensate her. A lower court had said the woman was injured in the course of her employment and should be compensated.

The High Court's ruling is final and could have ramifications for other federal employees who claim compensation for unconventional work-related mishaps.

The woman, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was a federal civil servant in her 30s when she was hospitalized for the injury in 2007. She and a man were having sex in her motel room when a glass light fixture above the bed fell onto her face, injuring her nose and mouth. She later suffered depression and was unable to continue working for the government.

Comcare initially approved her claim for workers' compensation, but rejected it after further investigation. An administrative tribunal agreed that her injuries were not suffered in the course of her employment, saying the government had not induced or encouraged the woman's sexual conduct. The tribunal also found the sex was "not an ordinary incident of an overnight stay," such as showering, sleeping or eating.

Federal Court Judge John Nicholas overturned that last year, rejecting the tribunal's findings that the sex had to be condoned by the government if she were to qualify for compensation.

"If the applicant had been injured while playing a game of cards in her motel room, she would be entitled to compensation even though it could not be said that her employer induced her to engage in such activity," Nicholas wrote then.

But the High Court ruled that Comcare was not liable to pay compensation. The judges did not say how much compensation had already been paid. Comcare declined to comment on the amount, but said it was considering recovering it.

The crucial facts were that the overnight stay was within the two-day period of the work trip and her employer had encouraged the woman to stay in the motel in Nowra, 100 miles south of her hometown of Sydney.

Employment Minister Eric Abetz hailed the ruling as a victory for common sense.