The Health of Compensation Litigation

Ensuring that injured people are fairly compensated whilst furthering accident prevention and rehabilitation goals and ensuring the continued financial viability of schemes is a constant tension in the systems that support injured Victorians.

Melbourne Law School student Genevieve Grant (LLB (Hons) 2006) is investigating approaches to health, injury and loss in compensation schemes for personal injury as part of her PhD program. She hopes her research will ultimately contribute to greater understanding on the medical and legal sides of the fence of the objectives and outcomes of compensation schemes.

"Personal injury compensation schemes are important parts of the legal and public health systems in Australia and internationally," Genevieve told MLS News.

"These schemes sit at the intersection of law and health and both sectors have strong views about the values and objectives that should be given highest priority," she said.

"This makes for some interesting debates."

Prior to starting her research, Genevieve was working as a plaintiff personal injury solicitor, so she had some first-hand experience of the process and working with the claimants involved in the schemes. She had also spent some time working at the Supreme Court, where she gained exposure to the institutional side of the process.

Genevieve is interested in the use of interdisciplinary and empirical ways of thinking about research in this area.

One element of her PhD research relates to recent medical evidence of the way compensation processes might impact on the health of claimants. Another relates to how judges approach the evaluation of compensable injury. Genevieve is using empirical research techniques to seek answers to these and related questions.

"These  approaches  recognise  the value of contributions from a variety of disciplines to achieve the most beneficial outcomes in terms of justice and public health," Genevieve said.

Genevieve is enrolled in both the Melbourne Law School and the University's School of Population Health, so she has the benefit of being part of both communities. At the beginning of her PhD she took some Master of Public Health subjects in epidemiology and biostatistics, which she said had its own challenges.

"At first, being the only personal injury lawyer in a room full of doctors didn't make me terribly popular!" Genevieve  said.

She said she is particularly grateful for the terrific support the Law School provides to its PhD students, particularly through the 'absolute dedication' of the Associate Dean (Research), Associate Professor Carolyn Evans (LLB (Hons) 1994).

"Additionally, I have had the fantastic guidance of my principal supervisor Professor David Studdert (LLB 1992), which has been of great help to me," Genevieve  said.

Genevieve is one of the few select students to have been awarded a Melbourne Law School Teaching Fellowship. She applied hoping to gain some experience of the teaching component of academic life.

In Semester 1 2009 she lectured in Administrative Law to a class of LLB students and in Semester 2 2009 she is tutoring Corporate Law. By the end of the year she will have gained exposure to teaching a diverse range of students in two different subject areas.

The Fellowship provides Genevieve with a stipend of $10,000 over the course of the year.

"The vast majority of PhD students across the University engage in a significant level of part-time work to supplement their scholarship income," Genevieve said.

"It is great to have some additional regular income to rely on while I'm gaining some interesting and relevant experience.

"The Fellowship is a fantastic opportunity in that it has provided me with a window into what academic life is like.

"Balancing teaching and research is enjoyable but demanding!

"Without the Fellowship, I would not have as great an understanding of what is required in academic employment."

Genevieve is 18 months into her PhD candidature and is hoping to complete her research within three years.

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 2, September 2009.