Worker who slipped in car park awarded €75,000

An employee, who injured her ankle when she slipped on leaves in a car park, was awarded damages totalling €75,000 by High Court judge recently.

Mr Justice Max Barrett held, on the balance of probabilities, that the employee slipped on leaves as she made her way to her car at about 7pm on a late October evening.

The injured woman, who worked for the Department of Agriculture and Marine, gave evidence that when she left work, there were still about ten employees left in the Department’s large office premises in Celbridge. She said there were no lights outside. However, she was able to make her way to the car following the exact same route she had followed for years previously.

She told the court she stumbled at the end of the 120-yard walk and fell, because she could not see where she was going. She slipped on something, which she believed were leaves, because of the mud on her tights.

As a result of the fall, she suffered a fractured ankle. She was not, she told the court, able to resume walking for pleasure for about seven months after the fall. She also told the court she finds long distance walking no longer possible and she has been unable to resume dancing. She sued her employer, the Minister of Agriculture and the Marine, and a facilities management company contracted by the Minister to manage the property.

Delivering judgment, Mr Justice Barrett said he considered the injured employee’s evidence was consistent with the time of the year and the mud on her tights. He said that while the evidence was that the car park was in pristine condition, her unchallenged evidence was that, on the night in question, the outside area and the car park were completely unit.

He rejected an argument by the employer (Minister for Agriculture) that, because there is a contract of indemnity between the Minister and the facilities management company, any liability must be ascribed to the company. He found that the Minister, as the employer, was breach of his duty under section 15 of the SHWW Act 2005, which places duties on persons in control of places of work, to ensure, in so far as reasonably practicable, that the means of access to and egress from the place of work was safe and without risk to health.

He found both the Minister and the facilities management company guilty of negligence. This leaves open a question of how the Minister will enforce the indemnity against the facilities management company, which could lead to further litigation.

Assessing damages, he found that the injured woman suffered a moderately severe fracture that resolved but left ongoing pain and suffering. He also found she suffered a significant loss of amenity in terms of dancing and long-distance walking. He awarded her damages of €75,000.

We do not have a breakdown of the award between general damages for the injury and special damages (if there were any) for medical expenses and other losses. The Book of Quantum provides for awards of between €79,900 and €89,300 for moderately severe ankle fractures. It is interesting to note the award is €4,900 lower than the judge could have awarded.

The English and Welsh Judicial Council’s Guidelines for the Assessment of General Damages in Personal Injury Cases categorises ankle injuries as very severe, severe, moderate and modest. The guidelines provide for awards of up to £41,860 (about €55,780) for severe ankle fractures. (Farrell v Minister for Agriculture and the Marin, and Apelona HSG Ltd: High Court, December 2020)

Source: Health and Safety Review