Belfast Telegraph

Slovakian agency worker wins £44k damages for back injury

By Alan Erwin

A Slovakian agency worker who injured his back lifting a washing machine at an electrical retailer's distribution warehouse is to receive more than £44,000 in damages.

Marek Belkovic was awarded the pay-out after a judge at the High Court in Belfast found his employers negligent and in breach of their statutory duty.

Lord Justice Gillen identified failures at the former Dixons premises in the provision of proper training and instructions for someone with poor English.

Despite rejecting allegations of racism in the case as being completely unfounded, the judge held that insufficient steps were taken to ensure the migrant worker understood his tasks or the risks.

He said: "I believe the plaintiff that he was regularly lifting items such as this washing machine manually with the assistance of his brother and this ought to have been observed and stopped."

The Slovakian sued DSG International PLC and First Choice Selection Services over the accident back in July 2005.

At the time he worked for Dixons - then a High Street retailer of domestic goods - in loading and unloading stock.

In a case where his brother acted as his legal assistant he claimed to have been moving more than 100 appliances of various sizes every day.

Mr Belkovic told the court he collapsed to the ground and was writhing in pain after lifting one washing machine to place on top of another.

His supervisor stressed, however, that no such injury was reported to him.

Over the course of a 12-day trial Lord Justice Gillen had to repeatedly warn the plaintiff's brother about "vulgar abuse" directed at the court, witnesses and lawyers for the defendants.

During a series of outbursts he made unfounded allegations of racism, fascism and fraud.

In one email to a defendant's solicitor he threatened: "I will put you in prison where you belong! You criminal."

But with cost of the proceedings starting to spiral, the judge decided it was in the interests of justice to let the case continue.

Although he was satisfied no attempt had been made to cover up the injury, he backed Mr Belkovic's account of how the accident happened.

He said forklift trucks should have been used to lift all palletted goods onto delivery lorries, and that inadequate instructions were given.

"I consider the employer in this case fell down on the fundamental requirement to ensure that the plaintiff could understand the training and instruction that he was given because of his poor English," Lord Justice Gillen held.

"Insufficient steps were taken to ensure that he understood either in his own language or through the assistance of an interpreter exactly what the task involved, what the risks were and what steps he should take."

He confirmed: "I am satisfied therefore that the defendant was guilty of breaches of statutory duty and of common law negligence and that these breaches have been causative of an injury to the plaintiff's back."

Ruling out any contributory negligence, the judge insisted that a proper system of work with appropriate instructions and training in a language Mr Belkovic understood did not feature sufficiently in the warehouse.

He awarded £30,500 in general damages for a back injury which he considered had accelerated an already present lumbar disc degenerative disease by two years.

Factoring in a further £13,900 for loss of earnings, Lord Justice Gillen confirmed the total payout will be £44,400.

A further hearing to decide on the level of interest and the costs of the case will be held in the new year.

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