Louise Barry, a 41 year old employee of Dunnes Stores Clonmel has been awarded €54,600 damages by the High Court for injuries sustained by her in an accident at Dunnes Stores on the 13th October 2004.
At that time Ms Barry was employed as a part-time sales assistant and was 6 weeks pregnant. Her job included putting out stock on the shop floor from trollies which were loaded by members of staff in the stores area.
On the day in question when Ms Barry arrived into work she found a number of trolleys in the home ware department which were stacked with goods to be displayed on shelves in that department. Ms Barry and a fellow employee were expected to unload any trolleys so positioned as part of their regular duties and to place the goods on display.
Ms Barry told the High Court that she went over to one of the trolleys which were stacked with boxes well above the height of her head. She reached up to one of those boxes not knowing what was inside it and pulled it forward to take it down. As the weight of the box came into her arms, which were stretched above her head, she realised it was too heavy for her to manage. She called out to Ms Collins to help her. Unfortunately at that moment when she could no longer hold the box Ms Collins was busy handling another box. As a result Ms Barry had to take the weight of the box into her arms and put it down quickly on a table that was close by. This required her to perform a twisting and turning type of manoeuvre. A few minutes later she felt pain in her back which soon started to radiate into her left buttock and down her left leg.
Ms Barry maintained that she suffered a significant injury to her back due to the negligence and breach of duty on the part of her employer Dunnes Stores. She also maintained that Dunnes failed to provide her with a safe place of work, safe system of work, safe equipment or any competent assistance.
In particular Ms Barry alleged that she was allowed and required to life a cumbersome and heavy box from a stock trolley which was stacked excessively high causing her to overreach.
Dunnes denied all liability in respect of Ms Barry’s claim and argued that she was not exposed to a trolley which was laden in the manner alleged. They alleged that Ms Barry’s injuries were caused entirely by her own negligence. They claimed that she was given extensive safety training which focused significantly on accident prevention and back safety.
In deciding liability in favour of the plaintiff in this case the judge said that the defendants should not have left out a trolley such as the one in question to be unloaded by Ms Barry. That trolley was stacked too high and boxes of bath mats weighing 9/10 kilos should never have been stacked above shoulder height.
The judge awarded a sum of general damages of €45,000 in respect of pain and suffering and a further sum of €33,000 in respect of loss of earnings. A deduction of 30% was then made in respect of the plaintiff’s contributory negligence making a total award of €54,600.