A fish farm diver who was left paralysed from the waist down following a deep-sea work dive back in April 2012 has been awarded over €500,000 in damages.

Frederick Catania suffered from spinal decompression syndrome in April 2012, following a 71-metre dive to work on cages belonging to Ta’ Mattew Fish Farms Limited. The incident left him with a permanent 75 per cent disability and unable to work.

He subsequently sued his employer for damages, saying they had failed to ensure a safe system of work, leading to the tragic incident. The company contested his claim, saying it was unfounded and saying Catania had been paid his dues as well as some additional payments as a form of “charity”.

The case (191/2013) began in 2013 but was only decided this week, 11 years later, when a court concluded in Catania’s favour.

It heard how Catania would frequently dive to extreme depths to work on the fish farm cages but was only provided with a standard oxygen tank, rather than specialised helium-rich ‘trimix’ cylinders used for such specialised dives.

Lawyers representing Ta’ Mattew Fish Farms argued that Catania’s work agreement stipulated that he was to provide his own scuba diving equipment. But a court noted that the company was unable to ever produce a copy of such a contract or written stipulation.

A medical expert concluded that Catania’s decompression sickness was the cumulative result of multiple deep-sea dives, rather than purely due to the April 2012 dive that left him hospitalized.

That April incident was also poorly handled by Catania’s employer, the court found. Catania was given the wrong form of oxygen when he resurfaced and it took barge crew around one and a half hours to get him to hospital.

The doctor responsible for the case testified that he was left stunned by the delay.

“I was waiting for him to arrive, and when after 30 minutes he hadn’t I called the mobile that had reported the case. They told me they were heading back to shore on a barge, and I got very upset… I told them I would have expected you to already be on the road to hospital, not 8 miles offshore,” the doctor testified.

“I remember I made a big fuss about this, about the importance of having an urgent means of transport for such cases. I had already made it clear to them in the first phone call,” he said.

The testimony led the court to conclude that there had been no safe system of work in place to protect workers adequately. Nor was there an organized structure with which to handle emergencies or quickly transport injured workers to shore.

It therefore ruled in Catania’s favour, saying Ta’ Mattew Fish Farms was singularly responsible for the April 6, 2012 incident that left him paralysed.

Catania was awarded €534,000 in damages, together with interest accrued from November 2015 to date. Ta’ Mattew Fish Farms Limited was also ordered to pay court fees.

The amount was calculated based on Catania’s average annual income of €25,317, a yearly cost of living increase of €300, the fact that the incident robbed him of 25 years of work and the 75 per cent disability calculated by experts.

Judge Francesco Depasqule presided.

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