Injured Aussie rodeo bull rider wins compensation

Mitchell Gajkowski had dreamed of a bull riding career in the US.
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Mitchell Gajkowski had dreamed of a bull riding career in the US.

From the age of nine, when his dad first plonked him on the back of a small calf, Mitchell Gajkowski loved rodeo life.

After riding the calf he graduated to steers, and eventually became a senior bull rider.

He planned to move from Australia to the USA in 2015 to pursue his bull riding career when his dream came to a sudden end: Mitchell was thrown from a bucking bull, their heads colliding. 

The accident resulted in catastrophic injuries on April 4, 2014, a day before his 19th birthday.

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Mitchell's ear was torn away by the bull's horn as he was thrown to the ground. The fall during a rodeo in Camden, south-west of Sydney, left him with a severe brain injury and in need of full-time care. 

Gajkowski was Australian champion for steer riding at the age of 14, his mother says.
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Gajkowski was Australian champion for steer riding at the age of 14, his mother says.

In a legal test case, Mitchell, now aged 22, was awarded workers compensation for his injuries after his lawyer successfully argued the young bull rider was working as an "entertainer".

His mother Megan Judd, who also has an older and younger son, said doctors did not expect Mitchell to survive the accident.

"It was just his dream to be a bull rider," she said. "It started when [he was] nine years old and my husband put him on his first poddy calf.

"It was just in his blood. He lived and dreamed rodeo.

"Every weekend he was riding. He was the Australian champion [for steer riding] when he was 14 years old." 

Lawyer Chris Clarke, partner at Attwood Marshall Lawyers, said Mitchell's insurance coverage under an industry policy was inadequate, offering up to A$50,000 (NZ$52,400) for his injuries.

Gajkowski and his lawyer Chris Clarke successfully fought for workers compensation.
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Gajkowski and his lawyer Chris Clarke successfully fought for workers compensation.

Clarke discovered Mitchell could be categorised as a "deemed worker" under Schedule 1 of Australia's Workplace Injury Management and Workers Compensation Act 1998.

The Camden Show Society and Australian Bushmen's Campdraft and Rodeo Association Limited had held a public performance during which Mitchell was injured, suffering a traumatic brain injury. 

"There was no case law on it. It was a basically a test case to make sure he could be categorised as a worker and the commission has determined that he is a worker under the deemed worker provisions," Clarke said.

"It comes down to the definition of an entertainer

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"It is obscure and a part of the regulation which is very rarely used, but it was of great assistance on this occasion."

Clarke said Mitchell had been awarded lifetime cover for medical expenses, travelling expenses, weekly payments of workers compensation until retirement age, a lump sum estimated at about A$200,000 and payments for his mother as a carer.

"It couldn't have been prosecuted without the help of WIRO (Workers Compensation Independent Review Office) which funded the legal case," Clarke said.

Without WIRO's help, Clarke said Mitchell's mother would not have been in a financial position to prosecute the claim.

Clarke is now looking into the cases of two other bull riders who were catastrophically injured after Mitchell's accident. He said Mitchell's case had set a precedent that may help other bull riders receive compensation for their injuries.

"If need be, we will commence proceedings in the commission for those two bull riders as well," Clarke said.

Hugh Southwell, president of the Camden Show Society said his organisation had "a great deal of sympathy for the Gajkowski family and in particular, Mitchell.

"He deserves some sort of compensation," Southwell said.

However, Southwell said his society did not agree with the Workers Compensation Commission decision.

"It is in the hands of our insurers as to whether they wish to accept the determination or encourage icare [Insurance and Care NSW] to lodge an appeal," he said. 

"Camden Show don't agree with the finding and think it has wider ranging implications for the agricultural show movement, rodeos and other sporting groups and community events." 

Insurance and Care NSW (icare) is a state government corporation that delivers insurance services to people injured at work and on roads. 

The Australian Bushmen's Campdraft and Rodeo Association Limited declined to comment.

 - Sydney Morning Herald

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