A Tasmanian man has been awarded more than $12 million, years after a punch from a bouncer outside a nightclub left him with life-altering injuries.
Matthew Leonard doesn’t remember the incident outside Syrup Nightclub in Hobart on July 2014.
The then 28-year-old bricklayer, who was heavily intoxicated at the time, had been kicked out of the venue shortly after midnight for harassing a group of women.
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He was “agitated, abusive and aggressive” towards two security guards, including the plaintiff Faleupolu Atileo.
Once outside the club, Leonard was told to move on and after doing so, he returned to the area outside the club.
He then punched Atileo in the face, immediately after which Atileo punched him too, causing him to fall backwards, hitting his head on the roadway.
Atileo fell on top of Leonard, but then got to his feet and walked away.
File image of the now closed Syrup Nightclub in Hobart. Credit: Facebook
An ambulance was called and Leonard was treated at the scene before being taken to the Royal Hobart Hospital.
He underwent emergency surgery, which included having part of his skull removed.
Proceedings were brought against Atileo and his employer SL Security Pty Ltd, in the Supreme Court of Tasmania, by the Public Trustee on Leonard’s behalf.
Atileo had argued he’d pushed Leonard, not punched him, and did so in self-defence.
But in his decision handed down last month, Acting Justice David Porter concluded it was a punch.
“Even if the defendant genuinely believed he needed to apply force in self-defence, the force applied was not proportionate in the circumstances,” he said.
“He could indeed have grabbed him, rather than punched him, or simply backed away fending him off if necessary.”
Acting Justice Porter added Atileo was in a much more advantageous position physically, both in size and his location at the time of the incident, and he was sober.
“He punched a very obviously drunken man. It was part of his work responsibilities to deal with unruly patrons as peacefully as possible,” he said.
The judge calculated Atileo bore 80 per cent of the responsibility for the incident, while Leonard bore 20 per cent because he “failed to exercise reasonable care for his own protection”.
“It is not just that he punched the defendant immediately before being punched,” Acting Justice Porter said.
“On the evidence, he was unruly, uncooperative and antagonistic in the short period of time leading up to the incident.
“He walked away from the club, but decided to return determined, it appears, to continue the confrontation.
“A risk of injury to himself by punching the defendant in those circumstances was reasonably foreseeable.”
The court heard Leonard spent 40 weeks in hospital, including two months in intensive care and seven months in an acute rehabilitation unit.
His head injury left him without any memory of the incident or the preceding events, and only some of what happened afterwards.
His life expectancy is also reduced as a result.
“He went through a difficult and protracted recovery period,” Acting Justice Porter said.
“He is very substantially disabled mentally and physically. He has serious cognitive deficits.”
Before the incident, Leonard was an “active man” who regularly played golf and enjoyed four-wheel-driving, skating, fishing and shooting with his friends.
“He enjoyed socialising and had a wide network of friends,” Acting Justice Porter said.
Now, he requires around-the-clock supervision.
“The plaintiff was a relatively young man when he was injured,” Acting Justice Porter said.
“He will have to cope with his disabilities and changed life for some three decades hence.”
Leonard was awarded $12.5 million, which accounted for past and future loss of earning capacity, future medical expenses, special damages, future attendant care and pain, suffering and loss of amenities.
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