Iconic jeweller must pay ex-staffer $270k over incident

A MAJOR jewellery chain has been ordered to pay $270,439 to an ex-sales assistant who developed a psychiatric injury after tussling with a would-be robber who grabbed a gold necklace.

A Southport District Court judge criticised Michael Hill Jeweller for not keeping written records of snatch-and-grab incidents and their effect on its staff.

The judge said the employee's injuries could have been avoided if the company had a better staff safety policy requiring customer identification before some items were demonstrated.

Nicole Funnell had shown a gold necklace and wrist chain to a male customer at Michael Hill Jeweller's Westfield Helensvale store, on the Gold Coast, before she ended up in a struggle.

After being told the necklace was priced at $13,000, the man asked for the best price and after checking, Ms Funnell told him it was $7900, Southport District Court heard.

After the man asked to feel the weight of the necklace, Ms Funnell asked him to produce his driver's licence for identification.

The man moved his hand, as if reaching for his wallet, but suddenly reached over the counter and tried to grab the necklace from Ms Funnell's hands.

She held on to the chain, with the help of a co-worker, and when the man used both hands to pull on it, the chain broke and he fled.

Ms Funnell, who had bleeding hands, later became nervous and anxious, she developed panic attacks and a psychiatric injury and could not return to retail work after the late 2015 incident.

Judge Kent said Ms Funnell had not been instructed to secure the driver's licence before accessing the display cabinet or before the customer handled any jewellery of the value of the gold chain necklace.


Sir Michael Hill of Michael Hill Jeweller
Sir Michael Hill of Michael Hill Jeweller


At the time, company policy required customers to produce identification before staff removed jewellery for demonstration, but only if items were valued at more than $20,000.

That policy was recently revised down from $20,000 to $2000.

Judge Kent said if the company had adopted that approach earlier, as a safety policy, rather than part of a sales process, the struggle and Ms Funnell's injuries could have been avoided.

Police records showed there had been 31 snatch and grab incidents at the company's 34 Queensland stores between March 2010 and November 2015.

Judge Kent was critical of the jewellery chain's own lack of written records of previous snatch and grab incidents and lack of formal and regular staff risk assessments.

Michael Hill Jeweller denied negligence and liability and disputed the level of Ms Funnell's injury.

But the judge found the employer breached its duty of care and Ms Funnell's psychiatric illness was foreseeable.

"When a female shop assistant is attacked by a much larger and younger male criminal assailant, in a violent although short struggle for an expensive item, ...it is foreseeable that a psychiatric illness would be caused to the victim,'' he said.

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