Life in the Australian Army is hazardous.  You might get sent to a war zone.  There’s also an unwritten expectation that you might, on occasion, drink lots of alcohol.


That’s the view of the High Court at least, which recently found that a soldier who fell out of a window after drinking a large quantity of beer was injured in the line of duty.


As a result, Jure Jack Roncewich, who fell from his window at Holsworthy Military Barracks, could be entitled to compensation from the Federal Government.


“There is little doubt in this case that there was a requirement, albeit not one to be found in formal military orders and an expectation, of attendance at the Sergeants’ Mess and the consumption in some quantity, even perhaps to the point of intoxication short of physical incapacity, of alcoholic drinks,” Judges Michael McHugh, William Gummow, Ian Callinan and Dyson Heydon said.


“Mr Roncevich fell after leaning out a window to spit.”


Mr Roncevich had returned to barracks to iron his uniform after drinking six to eight beers at a dinner for a visiting senior officer at the Sergeants’ Mess and fell from the second floor of the barracks after leaning out a window to spit.


The Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Federal Court ruled that Mr Roncevich’s injury to his knee was caused by intoxication and did not occur in the course of his defence service.  But the High Court unanimously overruled the decisions and sent the matter back for rehearing, saying the meaning of “defence service” had been misinterpreted by the AAT.

The High Court ruled there was evidence in Mr Roncevich’s case suggesting it was a requirement and an expectation that a soldier would consume alcohol when senior officers were visiting the base.


As a result, Mr Roncevich’s injury arose out of, or was attributable to, defence service and he therefore could claim compensation under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act, the court said.

“The remaining question is whether climbing on to the box to expectorate through the open window and then falling because he was inebriated, similarly either arose out of, or was attributable to his defence service.”


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