High Court: Man awarded €650k for injuries sustained while working in plant

A 59-year-old man has been awarded €675,116.72 in damages by the High Court after an accident at work which caused him serious injuries. The defendant company accepted liability for the accident, but since it had created a non-physical job for the man to return to after he recovered from his accident there was a dispute about whether him leaving this position two years after returning was due to his injuries.

Mr Justice Barr stated that it was clear that the man was hard-working, and that it reasonable for him to give up work due to intense anxiety suffered while at the plant after several accidents.

Background

Mr John Gardiner, 59, was employed by Zinc Processors Ltd trading as Shannonside Galvanising as a supervisor in the galvanising section of Shannonside’s plant.

On 9th August 2012 Mr Gardiner suffered serious injuries as a result of being hit by a load of metal items, which fell from a height and struck Mr Gardiner on the chest and shoulders. Liability for the accident was not in issue in the proceedings.

Shannonside accepted that Mr Gardiner suffered multiple serious injuries as a result of the accident, however the main areas of dispute were in relation to the following issues:

  1. When Mr Gardiner had returned to work with the defendant in August 2013 doing non-physical work in the area of quality control, whether his decision to cease work in February 2015, was as a result of any physical or psychiatric injuries sustained in the accident.
  2. Whether, having regard to Mr Gardiner’s recovery to date and in particular, having regard to his most recent examinations by various specialists, he needed in the past, or will need in the future, the level of care as advised by Mr Gardiner’s nursing expert.
  3. Depending upon the courts findings on both of these issues, what financial losses or expenses have been incurred to date and will be incurred by Mr Gardiner into the future.

Return to work

In August 2013, Mr Gardiner returned to work in a new position which the company had created for him so that he did not have to do any manual work.

All medical witnesses were in agreement that Mr Gardiner had showed considerable determination in getting back to work after such serious injuries

Mr Gardiner worked with the company from August 2013 until February 2015. During this time, he continued to require painkilling medication.

Justice Barr accepted that there were a number of reasons as to why Mr Gardiner gave up work in February 2015. While the work itself was not physically demanding, Mr Gardiner continued to have psychical symptoms in his neck and shoulders.

The Court heard that “during work, he would have flashbacks if he heard loud noises, or had to work near the scene of the accident. He became very frightened for his own safety while at the plant. His evidence of heightened anxiety and irritability was supported by the evidence of his wife”.

Justice Barr was satisfied that Mr Gardiner had a strong work ethic; and noted that he had had six previous accidents while working with Shannonside, none of which resulted in any claim being made by him, and that he always returned to work within a short period

Mr Gardiner’s evidence in relation to his psychiatric symptoms being aggravated by being present in Shannonside’s plant, was supported by the medical evidence.

Justice Barr was therefore satisfied that a combination of the loud noises at the factory, the witnessing of two accidents to fellow employees and the closeness to the scene of the accident, all combined to cause Mr Gardiner to suffer intense anxiety symptoms and symptoms of P.T.S.D. while at the plant. In these circumstances, Mr Gardiner acted reasonably in deciding to give up work in February 2015

In all the circumstances, Mr Gardiner was entitled to damages in respect of his loss of earnings to date and for his loss of earnings into the future until age 67.

General Damages

The Court accepted that Mr Gardiner suffered extensive serious injuries at the time of the accident. He was rendered totally disabled and experienced severe pain in the weeks and months following the accident.

Furthermore, according to the evidence of Mr Gardiner and of his GP, Dr Galvin, that prior to the accident, Mr Gardiner had been an extremely fit and active man.

Taking all of the relevant factors into account, the Court awarded Mr Gardiner €140,000 for pain and suffering and loss of amenity to date; and €95,000 in respect of pain and suffering and the continuing disabilities which will continue for the rest of his life.

Special Damages

In deciding whether it was appropriate for Mr Gardiner to be allowed the sum of €16,999.12 in respect of the cost of doing alterations to his dwelling, the Court did not accept that Mr Gardiner’s continuing ailments would greatly affect his mobility around the house so as to require accommodation on the ground floor

Accordingly, the court did not allow the sum claimed for carrying out alterations to Mr Gardiner’s house.

The Court did find that it was reasonable to assume that there would be repair and decoration jobs around the house which Mr Gardiner would have done but for the injuries sustained in the accident – therefore the Court allowed €25,000 in respect of these future expenses.

In addition to various medical and treatment costs, loss of earning to date, and loss of earnings into the future; the total award to Mr Gardiner was €675,116.72.

  • by Seosamh Gráinséir for Irish Legal News