It is not uncommon for businesses to be bought and sold, but what happens when the new owner of a business learns about a claim for damages for personal injuries suffered before the purchase?
Proper due diligence should alert new owners to existing damages claims, but with a (usual) three-year limitation period for injury claims, new employers can still be sued by injured workers without notice or knowledge of the event causing injury.
If any employer has a concern about the effect of historical claims on their workers’ compensation premium, WorkCover Queensland can be contacted to assess what effect (if any) a historical claim might have on current and future premiums.
In the meantime, as with any claim, the employer should endeavour to assist WorkCover’s lawyers to investigate the circumstances of the claim, which will include obtaining all relevant documentary evidence and facilitating witness evidence.
It is often the case that document and data retrieval systems change when new owners operate a business, but the obligation remains for the current employer to assist WorkCover’s lawyers with their investigations.
At a minimum, employers should have access to historical training records, incident/investigation reports, and be able to identify equipment involved and witnesses to the event. If new employers introduce new procedures, it is important during the handover of the business that access to predecessor’s documents and data retrieval systems are not lost. Sometimes, any deficiencies can be overcome by the living library of workers in key positions who bridge the gap between the former and current organisations, but in the modern, mobile workforce, that fallback is not always reliable.