Accidents do happen, however, very few realise that accidents may have very serious consequences. Trips and slips accidents is a category that more often than not are overlooked and not taken as seriously. However, these accidents may be serious enough to be life-changing for those who suffer injuries and there are legal norms that have to be taken into consideration to prevent these accidents and if they do take place, there are legal consequences.
I could not find any specific statistics on trips and slips in Malta. The National Statistics Office (NSO) do not give the count according to the cause of the accident at the place of work, however, one may get an indication when analysing the type of accidents. In 2020 there were 233 broken bones recorded and 397 cases of dislocations, strains and sprains. In the UK 29 per cent of all work-related accidents were attributed to trips and slips in 2019/2020, while in Denmark the rate is 1/5 of all accidents.
The general law of damages gives a right to claim to any person who suffers an injury from an incident. In fact, Article 1029 of the Civil Code (Chapter 16 of the Laws of Malta) reads:
“Any damage which is produced by a fortuitous event, or in consequence of an irresistible force, shall, in the absence of an express provision of the law to the contrary, be borne by the party on whose person or property such damage occurs.”
The law of tort is more complicated than this and one has to go into details to see whether the accident was caused deliberately, whether it was a case of negligence and therefore foreseen, whether the victim contributed to the accident.
Caselaw has shown that an employer or an owner of a business has to take the necessary precautions to avoid an accident on his or her premises. If the employer or business owner knows of areas that may be dangerous and that someone can easily trip or slip, then he or she has a legal responsibility to remedy the situation. A recent judgement highlighted this legal obligation. In Catherine Seager -v- Bank of Valletta plc decided by Mr Justice Lawrence Mintoff on 17th June 2019, put the blame of a fall of an elderly woman, who tripped over an unsafe doormat, placed at the door of a bank, on the bank. The Court held that the bank was responsible to make sure that all of the furniture at the bank was safe for the employees and for the customers who visit the bank. The Court awarded damages for the care that the plaintiff had received, and the bank had to pay.
At the workplace, the employer has a legal responsibility to eliminate all hazards. This is established in Article 6 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (Chapter 424 of the Laws of Malta). Although there is no specific legislation on slips and trips, it is up to the employer to make sure that the premises is safe to work in and this includes the stairs and floors. Instructions have to be clear when for example the cleaning of the floors, or when the works are being carried out. The law allows a set up to monitor the health and safety norms by means of an Authority, who in turn will have their own inspectors.
The consequences of a trip or a slip may range from no consequence to the death of the person. If it is proved that someone or a company is responsible for the trip or slip, then the injured party has a right to claim damages. Although Maltese law does not allow moral damages, the law does allow compensation for loss of earnings and expenses incurred as a consequence of the injury incurred or the damage to the property.
Therefore, the message is that one has to assure staff and clients that their stairs and floors are safe and that they have done everything to avoid an accident. BY MALCOLM MIFSUD
Malcolm Mifsud is a Founding Partner of Mifsud & Mifsud Advocates http://www.mifsudadvocates.com.mt