[2012] IEHC 128 - Ryan J.

Employee found 50% contributory negligent in relation to injuries sustained whilst he was descending from the cab of a tractor during the course of his work.  

Facts

The Plaintiff’s claim arose out of an accident which occurred on the 4th March 2008 during the course of his employment with the Defendant.  At the time of the accident, the Plaintiff was 59 years of age.  He sustained an injury to his left foot as he was descending from a tractor. As he was climbing down from the cab of the tractor, the door of the cab swung suddenly against him causing him to lose his balance and fall to the ground.  

The Plaintiff alleged that his accident was caused by the Defendant’s failure to repair a broken restraining strut on the door of the tractor. The Defendant denied that the restraining strut was broken at the time the accident occurred.  The Defendant alleged that the Plaintiff’s accident was caused in whole or in part by the fact that, when exiting the cab, the Plaintiff walked forward instead of turning around to face the cab, which meant that it was difficult if not impossible for him to keep hold of the handle which was located on the side of the cab.   

Judgment

In finding in favour of the Plaintiff, Ryan J held that, on the balance of probabilities, the restraining strut was defective at the time of the accident and that this is what caused the door to swing and strike the Plaintiff. In addressing the issue of contributory negligence, Ryan J stated that the “onus on an employer seeking to establish contributory negligence is higher when the employee has proven breach of statutory duty as compared with common law negligence”.  Ryan J held that the Plaintiff was aware of the fact that the restraining strut on the door was broken and he was also aware of the correct way to dismount from the cab of the tractor. Ryan J assessed contributory negligence at 50%.    

The Plaintiff was awarded €80,000 in respect of his general damages.  This figure was reduced to €40,000 to take account of the finding of contributory negligence.  

Comment

The Judgment of Ryan J highlights the higher standard which applies where an employer is seeking to establish contributory negligence against an employee in circumstances where the employer is found to have breached their statutory duty to that employee. Mere carelessness or inadvertence is unlikely to be sufficient to result in a finding of contributory negligence. Generally, it is necessary to demonstrate that an employee acted recklessly or in gross disregard for their own safety if there is to be any prospect of establish contributory negligence. In this case, Ryan J was clearly of the view that the Plaintiff’s action in dismounting from the tractor whilst facing forward and knowing that the door strut was broken was more than simple carelessness and was sufficiently reckless to warrant a substantial finding of contributory negligence.

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