The High Court has determined that an employer can be held liable for injuries sustained by an employee through the use of a defective product if adequate preventative care is not taken by the employer.

Mr. Jim Connolly was awarded damages of €281,500 for injuries he sustained while undertaking a wardrobe and cabinet making course with FÁS. He had come in contact with a saw machine manufactured by Werkhuizen Landuyt NV.

Mr. Connolly was a carpenter seeking to upskill. He was attending a FÁS course in Dundalk on 11 July 2011 when he sustained laceration and amputation injuries to the fingers of his left hand. The incident arose when Mr Connolly was carrying his tools in his right hand when his path was blocked by some trolleys. To make way, he pushed back a sliding table which was part of a saw machine, catching his fingers in the machine. He suffered significant injuries to the middle and right ring fingers of his left hand.

There was no dispute between the parties as to the facts surrounding the incident. It was accepted by all parties that the edge of the table presented a hazard. The question was where liability should be apportioned.

Employer: FÁS

FÁS accepted that they had failed to conduct an adequate risk assessment of the saw to identify the particular hazard. Since the accident, FÁS had fitted a plate to the front of the sliding panel of the saw to neutralise the risk of further harm.

Cross J found FÁS in breach of their duty to provide a safe system and place of work.

Manufacturer: Werkhuizen

The manufacturer argued that the machine was in compliance with European standards as set out in the European Machinery Directive. The Directive was silent as to any protection requirements for the front end of the sliding panel. Despite this and the machines certification by an independent certification body, Cross J found that the company was not exempt from liability under the Act. Under the Defective Products Act 1991, a product is defective if it fails to provide the safety which a person is entitled to expect. Cross J determined that the saw was defective under the Act and the defect could have been addressed by the insertion of the plate as carried out by FÁS after the event.

The High Court found both the manufacturer of the machine and FÁS to be jointly and severally liable for Mr Connolly’s injuries. He determined that the defendants were liable on a ratio of two thirds against FÁS and one third against the manufacturer.

Decision on Liability:

No finding of contributory negligence was made against Mr. Connolly. As Mr. Connolly was unable to work again as a carpenter, Cross J awarded future loss of earnings in the sum of €170,000 and general damages of €80,000.

A copy of the decision can be accessed here.