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Court of Appeal Personal Injuries Action: A Failure to Report

By: Barry Kelleher & Roisin Beazley | Posted on: 17 Feb 2021

In the case Morgan v Electricity Supply Board [2021] IECA 29, the Court of Appeal overturned a High Court decision that found ESB liable for injuries caused to an employee in the course of his employment. The plaintiff claimed to have fallen on a wet floor while carrying post down a flight of stairs.

In his Judgment, Mr Justice Noonan emphasised in particular the failure of the plaintiff to report a potential leak in the skylight to management during the investigation into the incident.  He also highlighted the irrelevancy of training in this case and the lack of substantial evidence in regard to the alleged disintegration of the nosing on the steps.

In a separate Judgment, Mr Justice Collins noted the lack of specificity in the pleadings, despite the requirement for such specificity set out in the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004.

1. Failure to Report the Leaking Issue

The plaintiff claimed that the water on the stairs was caused by a leak in the skylight above the stairs. However, the plaintiff failed to inform management of this alleged leak on three separate occasions;

  • When he completed a “Notice of Accidental Injury” form, he included no mention of a leak.
  • When a meeting was held with three of the defendant’s personnel as part of the investigation the plaintiff made no reference to a potential leak.
  • Finally, the plaintiff had an opportunity to amend the draft investigation report. He did make certain corrections to this report but still did not reference the leak.

The court described the failure to report the leaking issue as “an extraordinary omission”.

The first reference to a potential leak in the skylight was made in the personal injuries summons. The Court noted that the investigation meeting and the two investigation documents were presented weeks and months after the incident and the plaintiff could not claim to have been suffering from shock at these stages.

Furthermore, on these three occasions, the plaintiff made reference to a “spillage on the stairs” which the Court deemed to be inconsistent with his claim of a leaking skylight. On this issue, the Court could not make a finding of negligence against the defendant due to the inability to confirm what caused the unidentified liquid on the stairs.

2. Irrelevancy of Training

The issue of training was not raised in the pleadings of the case, nor in any professional reports completed about the incident. It was instead raised “in the most general terms” as a potential breach of duty by the defendants. The court dismissed the relevancy of the Plaintiff's training to the proceedings, as the Plaintiff had not specifically pleaded any negligence in that regard. Furthermore, the plaintiff himself stated that he had no criticism of his employers in regard to his training.

3. Need for Specificity in Pleadings

Section 13(1)(a) of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 states that pleadings brought by a plaintiff must include “full and detailed particulars of the claim”. The Court in this case noted the lack of specificity in the pleadings, using the example of the claim that the defendant was in breach of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005. There was no indication as to which section of the Act had been breached or what action or inaction caused the breach.

Referring to caselaw including Hay v O’ Grady [1992] 1 IR 210, Doyle v Banville [2012] IESC 25, and McDonald v Conroy [2020] IECA 239,  the need for specificity in pleadings to allow for clarity in judgments was highlighted. This means that parties to a case will know why they either won or lost.

Conclusion

The Court of Appeal overturned the High Court decision on the basis that there was insufficient evidence to attribute negligence to the Defendant noting specifically;

  • The failure of the plaintiff to report the leaking issue to management on three separate occasions.
  • The general lack of evidence to suggest such a leak prevented the Court from making a finding of negligence against the defendant.
  • The lack of specificity in the pleadings brought by the plaintiff, which showed a disregard for the rules set out in the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004.

The Judgment will be of assistance to Defendants, highlighting that a lack of consistency on the circumstances of an accident from the Plaintiff, will be considered by the Court. It highlights the importance of an early thorough investigation by Defendants into the causes of such incidents, which may be relied upon by a court at a hearing.

It also serves as a reminder to parties on the requirements of specificity in Pleadings as required in the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004. 

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