[2012] IEHC 203 - Irvine J.

Prison officer's claim for damages arising out of a slip and fall accident in Mountyjoy Prison dismissed.


The Plaintiff was working as a prison guard in Mountjoy prison when his accident occurred.  The Plaintiff alleged that he sustained injuries when he slipped on tea which had spilled down from a balcony above where he was walking. The cause of the spillage was unknown and was a matter of speculation during the course of the hearing. The Plaintiff alleged that the Defendant was negligent in failing to implement measures to reduce the risk of tea being spilled from an upper level down onto a lower level whilst prisoners were bringing food and drinks back to their cells at teatime.


Having heard all of the evidence in the case, Irvine J accepted the evidence put forward by the Defendant to the effect that no such similar incidents had occurred in the 10 years prior to the Plaintiff’s accident. Irvine J accepted that the system which was in place and which allowed prisoners to carry pots of tea from a central distribution point back to their cells was not an unsafe system. She stated that the activities at tea time were orderly, well policed and extremely well organised and that this system had been in operation for many years without adverse consequences.   Irvine J stated that an employer is not obliged to provide a system which rules out any possibility of injury. Employers are only expected to provide a system of work which takes reasonable care for the safety of their employees and this is what occurred in this case.  Irvine J did not accept that there was any negligence or breach of duty on the part of the Defendants and accordingly, she dismissed the Plaintiff’s claim.


The issue at the heart of this case was articulated very well by Irvine J in her Judgment when she stated that “an employer is not an insurer of the health and safety of its employees”. An employer will have discharged their duty of care if they do what a reasonable and prudent employer would have done in the circumstances.

The issue of foreseeability appears to have been one of the factors which underpinned Irvine J’s decision.  She accepted the Defendant’s evidence that there was no history of any such similar incidents in the past and, on that basis, determined that the Defendant could not be faulted for failing to anticipate such an occurrence and for failing to take measures to prevent it.

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