The case of Richard Steer v Allergan Pharmaceuticals Ireland  IEHC 577 clearly demonstrates the depths to which a Court must go in assessing a Plaintiff`s medical history in Repetitive Stress Injury Claims to ensure that the defendant employer is not blamed for all of the Plaintiff`s symptoms.
The plaintiff claimed damages for personal injury and loss suffered by him in the course of his employment with the defendant. The Plaintiff commenced working in October 1999 with the Defendant employer in his capacity as a janitor. The work involved the Plaintiff having to engage in the daily use of buffer / scrubber machinery, in the process of heavy duty cleaning at the Defendant’s premises. In or about mid 2007, the Plaintiff began to suffer from pain in his back, mainly on the right side, which deteriorated and in February 2008, the Plaintiff was unable to continue his duties with the Defendants.
Considering the relatively short period of time during which the Plaintiff was actually suffering pain one might have thought that Court would not have held the employer responsible. This however is where an indepth examination of the Plaintiff`s work schedule is necessary.
The Plaintiff contended that, due to repetitive stress that he received in his work as a janitor, he developed chronic back pain. The plaintiff also submitted that he had worked long shifts and the intensity of workload had exposed him to personal injury. The defendant denied the allegations made by the plaintiff.
This Hearing actually lasted 10 days. The Court heard from fourteen witnesses. These included the plaintiff and his wife, five of his work colleagues, two engineers, four medics and one physiotherapist.
What was of most assistance to the Court was the Medical Notes of Dr. Oliver Whyte, the employer`s doctor, who provided the Court with a chronological list of attendances, complaints and treatments made by and afforded to the Plaintiff from 1999 when he commenced work with Allergan to 2009 when he retired.
The Court was satisfied that there were regular Safety Committee meetings and training sessions for staff, including the janitorial staff. It did however appear to be the case that no formal Risk Assessment of janitorial duties was carried out by the company prior to 2008.
Ms. Justice Murphy awarded €45,000.00 general damages to the plaintiff in addition to the agreed special damages between the parties. The Court held that the defendant was negligent in permitting the plaintiff to work excessive hours which led to the aggravation of existing degenerative changes in the plaintiff’s spine. The Court noted that the defendant was not responsible for the overall existing degenerative changes of spine. This was despite the Judge`s view that the employer was a well run company cognisant of its obligations statutory and otherwise to its workforce. Throughout Mr. Steer’s time in the defendant’s employment there were persons employed specifically as Health & Safety Officers to ensure compliance with legislative and regulatory requirements.
Mr. Steer was 55 years old when he began his employment with Allergan. At that point, he had a 40 years work history which included far more physically demanding work than that which his work at Allergan entailed. He had been in the Royal Navy. He had worked as a crane driver. He had physically harvested timber. He was a tiler. He ran a waste business. For two and a half years before joining Allergan he had leased and run a pub. Lifting and moving kegs and crates of beer, stacking shelves and the cleaning involved in running a pub was undoubtedly more physically arduous than anything he was required to do in Allergan. The Court was of the view therefore that the employer Allergen could not in the circumstances be held responsible for all his symptoms.
The Court found that the defendant was only responsible for exacerbating the pain that had occurred from those changes in the Plaintiff`s spine. The Court held that the defendant could have employed additional staff to reduce the workload of the plaintiff, given his age and the prior manifested pain.
It is very important that employers, on recruitment of a new employee, undertake a medical examination of the employee and a detailed work and medical history, in order to assess exactly what work the employee is fit to undertake. It is also important that Risk Assessments are undertaken and updated on all work stations. Once a complaint of injury is made the employee should be medically examined, constantly monitored and in some circumstances removed from the particular work station.
For further information on Medical Negligence Claims contact:
Morgan McManus Solicitors
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