Accident at work versus employer’s liability
What steps should a work accident victim take to receive compensation? Polska Kancelaria Pomocy Poszkodowanym advises
Working on the construction of a fence at a parcel, Michał P. had a serious accident. He was hit on the head by a large metal piece of construction machinery, resulting in severe, life-threatening injuries. As a matter of urgency, the victim underwent surgery to trepan the skull and remove numerous bone fragments sunk into the brain.
After being hospitalized, Michał P. was transferred to a rehabilitation clinic. Initially, he suffered from motor aphasia and right-sided hemiparesis. Therefore, the victim needed help with basic activities, such as using the toilet, eating, moving around, dressing, bathing and walking. He was learning to speak and move his limbs again.
One of the consequences of the accident was also the occurrence of hypertension, which occurred due to lack of physical activity and weight gain. Simultaneously, due to the injuries, the victim could not exercise to lose weight. Hypertension effectively prevented the operation to complete the bone defect of the skull.
In addition to huge physical ailments, Michał P. also suffered mentally. He suffered disturbances of consciousness and anxieties. He was also worried that he would not start his own family and would be a burden on his parents and siblings. He also suffered problems with concentration, memory and speaking.
The feeling of helplessness and loss of life energy were also caused by the fact that the victim had been a young, strong and active man before the accident. As a result of the unfortunate event, he had to reorganize his life, limit physical activity to a minimum and give up numerous activities that brought him joy, e.g. trips with friends. Maintaining relationships with loved ones was also difficult - after the accident, his girlfriend broke up with him, and contacts with colleagues were limited to rare visits of friends at his home.
From the moment of the accident, the victim received benefits from the Social Insurance Institution - first sickness benefit, then rehabilitation benefit, and then disability pension. However, the amounts paid by the Social Insurance Institution were not sufficient for Michał P. to cover the expenses related to treatment, rehabilitation and commuting to medical facilities. Therefore, the aggrieved party decided to turn to a compensation office in order to pursue his claims.
The company where the victim worked did not have civil liability insurance, therefore Michał P.'s attorneys sent a request for payment directly to the employer. After being refused compensation for the harm suffered, the victim decided to go to court, because there were grounds to conclude that the employer was responsible for the damages suffered by Michał P.
The first basis results from the employer's liability in an event of damage caused by an employee. The operator of the construction machine that hit Michał P. was found guilty by a final court judgment of causing grievous bodily harm. Therefore, the employer was liable on a risk basis - acting on their own account, they entrusted the performance of activities to a subordinate, and the subordinate caused damage. Moreover, the operator of the device had not been trained by the employer and had not had the appropriate authorization to operate the machine.
The employer was also responsible for the "operation of the enterprise" - i.e. when running an enterprise or plant set in motion by natural forces (steam, gas, electricity, liquid fuels, etc.), they are liable for damage caused to the employee by the operation of the enterprise or plant, unless the damage was caused by force majeure or solely due to the fault of the injured party or a third party for whom the employer is not responsible. Between the so-called operation of the enterprise (operating a construction machine) and the damage caused to Michał P., there was a causal relationship justifying the employer's liability. There was no reason to exclude the employer from liability for the employee.
The third basis of liability is the risky liability of the owner of the vehicle. The driver of the machine during the performance of his duties was only that machine's user. As in the above-mentioned principle of liability, also here the employer is liable when damage to a person or property is caused in connection with the use of the vehicle.
In the course of the proceedings, many witnesses were questioned and the opinions of medical experts were also referred to. The defendant employer did not question that he was responsible for the consequences of the accident at work, but he cited many arguments that the amount of compensation claimed by Michał P. was excessive. He claimed, among other things, that Michał P. contributed to the accident.
The court, after considering all the circumstances and analyzing the documents, found that the employer was liable for the accident at work and pointed to the concurrence of the above-mentioned grounds for liability. Therefore, it awarded the defendant the amount of PLN 204000 to the plaintiff as settlement and compensation with interest from 2011 and a monthly compensatory pension for increased needs in the amount of PLN 1429.37 per month. The defendant was also ordered to cover the costs of the proceedings.
In the justification, the court indicated that the amounts awarded meet the compensatory nature of the claim and are adequate to the extent of the harm and damage suffered. They are to help overcome unpleasant experiences, thanks to which the balance disturbed as a result of committing a tort will be restored.
If Michał P. and the legal team of the Polska Kancelaria Pomocy Poszkodowanym, had not decided to file a lawsuit against the employer, the only benefit he could receive now would come from the Social Insurance Institution. Unfortunately, no amount of money will restore the injured person to full fitness, but it will certainly facilitate his daily functioning and he will not have to worry about the future.