Scalded hospital worker gets €19,000 in damages

The woman, a carer who was employed by a private contractor, suffered severe burns when a boiler tipped over onto her in the kitchen of the ward where she was working in December 2012

A hospital worker has been awarded €19,000 in damages after she was scalded with boiling water at her workplace.

The woman, a carer who was employed by a private contractor, suffered severe burns when a boiler tipped over onto her in the kitchen of the ward where she was working in December 2012, covering her from head to toe in scalding-hot water.

The victim suffered permanent scarring as a result and sued her employer, Support Services Ltd and the Government Chief Medical Officer for damages.          

Judge Joseph R. Micallef heard witnesses explain how the boiler in question had been propped up on plastic boxes used to hold yoghurt containers and was covered by an unsecured lid which was a replacement for a damaged part.

It emerged that the boiler had been overfilled on the day, but was otherwise working well and the incident would not have occurred had the plastic boxes not collapsed. The use of the plastic boxes was discontinued after the incident.

The plaintiff was treated at the Emergency department in the immediate aftermath of the incident, requiring skin grafts to treat her horrific burns and she spent weeks as a patient in hospital as a result. It was only thanks to the skill of the surgeons who treated her that her permanent disability was kept at 6% and not the expected 13%.

The woman’s wages were paid in full for the duration of the time she was unable to attend work. She also applied to the social security department for workplace injury benefits.

The Chief Government Medical Officer denied responsibility for the accident and insisted that upkeep of equipment in the public hospital was not the CGMO’s responsibility. The CGMO also argued that the woman had been negligent when she moved the boiler.

On the other hand, the woman’s employer, Support Services Ltd, had argued that the boiler was the property of the hospital and so was the responsibility for the accident.

The court, however, ruled that both her employer and the hospital had to bear the responsibility for the accident, agreeing with the plaintiff that the injuries she had suffered were the direct effect of shortcomings which the respondents had to answer to.

The victim had requested compensation both for costs she incurred as a result of the incident and loss of income due to her disability.

Although courts often use an established formula to liquidate damages in such cases, the judge said that he was expected to award compensation after evaluating the circumstances of the case according to what the woman deserved and not “through some mathematical mantra.”

Noting that in this case, the plaintiff had been just 20 years old at the time of the accident, the court awarded the woman €19,106 by way of compensation, payable by both defendants.

Lawyer Maxilene Ellul appeared for the woman, lawyer Josette Sultana represented the Chief Government Medical Officer, whilst lawyer Ian Spiteri Bailey represented the woman’s employer.

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