$1.8mil fine over scalding bath death

A National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) provider has been fined $1.8 million over the death of a client from scalding bath water two years ago.

In the Federal Court on Wednesday, registered charity and not-for profit organisation LiveBetter received almost the maximum penalty available for breaching the NDIS Act over the death of 28-year-old indigenous woman Kyah Lucas in Orange in February 2022.

Ms Lucas, who had a range of severe physical and cognitive disabilities, sustained burns to 35-40 per cent of her body and died five days later in hospital as a result of being bathed in too-hot water by LiveBetter workers.

Justice Raper said this was a tragic case in which there were fundamental failures by LiveBetter to provide Ms Lucas with quality supports and services, and to protect her.

“The tragic circumstances of this case speak loudly in favour of the court, as strongly as possible, marking its disapproval of the contravening conduct,” she said.

Ms Lucas had the rare genetic disorder, Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. She was small in stature, about 21 kilograms, and 123 centimetres tall, with minimal subcutaneous muscle and fat. She was unable to move independently, was non-verbal, and had a profound intellectual disability.


She had been a client of LiveBetter since 2009, receiving community access and day program support, respite support and domestic assistance.

NDIS Commissioner Michael Phelan sought declarations that LiveBetter contravened s 73J and 73V of the Act, and the issuing of fines. He submitted LiveBetter’s contraventions were repeated, serious and had foreseeable and potentially serious consequences.

“Furthermore, he submitted that the breaches occurred in the circumstance that LiveBetter assumed the responsibilities inherent in a socially very important Commonwealth scheme for provision of critical services to the most vulnerable members of the community, and their families,” Justice Raper said.

LiveBetter admitted to 17 contraventions of Act, which it committed when it failed to:

  • conduct a formal risk assessment of Ms Lucas’s residence;
  • ensure access to responsive, timely, competent and appropriate supports to meet her needs, desired outcomes and goals,
  • provide her with bathing supports in a safe and competent manner, and with care and skill;
  • formally train seven support workers in proper bathing technique; and
  • formally assess the competency of seven support workers.

“The specific harm suffered by Ms Lucas was of the most acute kind, so too can it be said of the harm to Ms Lucas’s family … There are no words to properly express the degree of the harm suffered,” Justice Raper said.

LiveBetter was also ordered to pay the Commissioner’s costs.

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