A young handyman who suffered a back injury when a goods lift collapsed, has had his claim for damages dismissed by a court, which found negligence on his part. 

The accident happened in November 2011 when then 16-year-old Wayne Galea was carrying out some tasks at a villa in Madliena belonging to one of his employers.

The young handyman was barely one month into his job with Walsh’s Limited, one of whose directors was local entrepreneur Carol Calleja.

He had been working at Calleja's residence for some time and was just about to call it a day when he decided to use the lift that was meant to carry goods from the garden level to a yard at a lower level. 

It was a hoist-like device consisting of an uncovered rectangular shelf bordered by a wooden railing to prevent the load from falling off during transportation up and down, a height of one storey. 

The lift had been installed to carry plants, sacks of fertiliser and other gardening materials, as well as crates of wines and other alcoholic beverages which were stored at the villa for use at Calleja's restaurant.

The lift was electrically operated using a remote-control mechanism.

On the day of the accident, Galea was transferring items from the garden to the yard below, working under the instructions of his employer.

There were stairs nearby, wide enough for a person to manoeuvre easily even when carrying a load.

Towards the end of his workday, Galea decided to use the cargo lift himself. 

He later explained that he wanted “to spare himself [going up and down] the stairs”.

But the mechanism gave way under the young worker’s weight, crashing down and causing him to land heavily on his feet. 

Soon after the incident, he was accompanied home by Calleja. 

The next day, Galea was admitted to hospital for surgery. 

He suffered a 6% debility

A consultant orthopaedic specialist certified that the patient had injured his lumbar vertebra. The injury, which resulted in a 6% debility, was compatible with the fall he had sustained. 

Galea was out of work for several months, during which the company paid him his full wages. 

Six months later, in May 2012, Galea informed the company that he intended to return to his job, upon the recommendations of his medical consultant. 

However, he soon complained that he could not continue his job because of his painful back. 

In November 2013, one year after the incident, Galea quit his job. 

He later applied for a state disability pension.

A medical board certified that the teenager had suffered a debility and was eligible for the pension. 

In September 2013, Galea sued Walsh’s Limited for damages claiming that the workplace incident happened because he had not been properly warned about the risks when operating the lift. The company had also failed to provide adequate safety gear. 

However, his former employer rebutted that it was the applicant’s own negligence that caused the accident through his irresponsible behaviour.

The worker had been warned that the lift was intended solely to carry goods. 

The court was shown photographic evidence of a notice reading “LIFT FOR GOODS ONLY NO PERSONNEL” that was affixed at the villa. 

The parties somewhat disagreed as to whether that notice was present at the time of the incident.

However, another employee testified that there were other such notices in different areas of the private residence. 

Galea insisted that he had not been warned about the inherent risks and claimed that the lift had not been certified by the relative authorities. 

Lift was not intended to carry passengers

When delivering judgement, the First Hall, Civil Court, presided over by Mr Justice Joseph R. Micallef, upheld the company’s line of argument observing that the nature and location of the lift showed that it was clearly not intended to carry passengers, but only goods. 

As the worker himself explained, he had never previously used the lift during all the time he spent working at his employer’s home. 

He had only used it that day to avoid the stairs and he had done so empty-handed. 

When analysing employment laws, the court observed that every employer is duty bound to provide adequate training, knowledge and supervision, as well as equipment to safeguard his workers’ health and safety. 

Training was particularly important in cases, like this one, where the worker was a newcomer. 

However, such a high degree of responsibility did not spare the workers from the duty of safeguarding their own personal safety as well as that of third parties who may be affected by their work. 

A worker must be aware of the risks and should never attempt any manoeuvres likely to increase the risk of damage or injury. 

When pleading contributory negligence, the company had to prove that the worker agreed to do the job that possibly exposed him to risk, that he willingly accepted the job and that when doing so he was well aware of the inherent risks. 

When all was considered, the court concluded that the accident was caused through the free choice and negligence of the worker, upholding the company’s pleas and rejecting the applicant’s claims with costs. 

Lawyer Mario de Marco assisted the company. 

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