Disability service cops $1.8m fine for burns death

A disability support provider has been fined $1.8 million after admitting serious shortfalls in staff training that led to a vulnerable Indigenous woman dying from burns after being given a bath.

Kyah Lucas suffered burns to 35 to 40 per cent of her body when she was bathed at her home in Orange, in central-west NSW, by two workers from NDIS provider LiveBetter on February 2, 2022.

The 28-year-old died in a Sydney hospital five days later.

The Federal Court on Wednesday ordered LiveBetter, the largest disability services provider in regional NSW, to pay the $1.8 million penalty.

Bill Shorten (file image)
NDIS Minister Bill Shorten warned providers to do everything they could to keep participants safe.

"Almost the maximum penalty has been awarded with respect to the specific contraventions closely aligned with Ms Lucas’s tragic, untimely death," Justice Elizabeth Raper said.

The firm's 17 contraventions for failing to comply with standards imposed by the National Disability Insurance Scheme were extremely serious, the judge said.

"LiveBetter’s failures were antithetical to the stated object of the statutory scheme, to protect and prevent Ms Lucas from harm arising from unsafe supports and services provided under the scheme," she said.

The NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission sued the company in March 2023.

Both parties told a hearing a year later that they had agreed on the $1.8 million penalty during mediation talks. 

Ms Lucas was non-verbal with thin skin, conditions that left her vulnerable to high temperatures as she was unable to communicate pain.

One of her carers ran a bath at her family's home and checked the water with her hand, believing it was "fine", according to an agreed statement of facts.

The support workers realised the bath was too hot when Ms Lucas began to move and vocalise in an unusual way.

Her skin was peeling when she was removed from the steaming bath and a control panel showed the water temperature was 60C, rather than the usual maximum setting of 42C.

"The tragic circumstances of this case speak loudly in favour of the court, as strongly as possible, marking its disapproval of the contravening conduct," Justice Raper said.

A LiveBetter spokeswoman said the disability provider accepted the penalty and the seriousness of the circumstances surrounding the death. 

"Everybody in the LiveBetter community has been deeply saddened by the death of Kyah Lucas in February 2022," she said in a statement.

"Kyah’s death is a tragedy that has impacted all of us and our deepest sympathies remain with her family."

A review had been implemented at LiveBetter and "significant steps" had already been taken to strengthen the firm's safety measures, the spokeswoman added.

NDIS Minister Bill Shorten warned providers to do everything they could to keep participants safe.

"We want to send a strong message that those entrusted with the care of NDIS participants will be held to the highest standards," he said.

Acting NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commissioner Michael Phelan told providers to "pick up their game" when it came to staff training.

"All disability providers and support workers must have safety front of mind when it comes to supporting people with disability," he said. 

"We will not hesitate to take action where providers fail to keep people with disability safe."

LiveBetter has been ordered to pay the NDIS commissioner's legal costs of running the case.

13YARN 13 92 76

Aboriginal Counselling Services 0410 539 905

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