Josette Camilleri vs The Malta Union Club et[1]

The Facts

In a recently decided case ‘Josette Camilleri vs The Malta Union Club et’, the First Hall of the Civil Court (the “Court”) heard the pleadings regarding a workplace accident which left Josette Camilleri suffering from a permanent disability comprising various physical functional limitations.  At the time of the accident, Camilleri was employed as a waitress at a cafeteria establishment in the employ of Vira Gatt Butto (“Butto” or the “Employer”).   The bar was not owned by the Employer but had been conceded to the said Employer by a third party The Malta Union Club (the “Club”).  In instituting a case for damages, Camilleri opted to only sue the Club, arguing that the damages were caused by its negligence, lack of skill and failure to observe the regulations.  The accident consisted of Camilleri slipping over some water spilled on the floor. 

The Outcome

By means of a preliminary plea, the Club insisted that since it was not Camilleri’s employer, it follows that it was not the proper defendant to the case.  At the outset, following Butto being called into the suit, the Court’s first legal issue to be decided upon was whether the Club was the proper defendant. 

While the accident took place inside the Club’s property, the defendant Club had not, in any manner, been involved in the management and running of the bar.  This had been the exclusive responsibility of the Employer and on this basis the Court determined that in this respect, there was no cause of causality between the defendant Club and the ensuing accident. Furthermore, there were no structural defects in the building which could have led to Camilleri’s accident.  The Court held that the Club was not the legitimate defendant and that the Employer was the proper defendant as she was the person responsible for the running of the bar, and the recruitment of employees.

Following this determination, the Court moved on to analysing whether Butto had breached any statutory employers’ obligations.  Butto was deemed to have breached article 6 of Chapter 424 of the Laws of Malta for failing to have ensured the health and safety of its employee on the grounds of having an insufficient number of employees to deal with work exigencies.  The amount of €6,560.64 was awarded to the plaintiff by way of damages for loss of future earnings. No proof of any material damages had been submitted.  The case is subject to appeal.

The GMX Commentary

Failure to file a case against the proper defendant may risk having the case dismissed, requiring a party to start proceedings anew unless the proper defendant is called into the suit.  In this case the Court opted for the latter option, calling in the plaintiff’s employer into the suit.  In its deliberations it seems that the court focused primarily on (i) the involvement or otherwise of the third party in the running of the place where the accident took place; and (ii) whether there were any damages or structural defects in the building which could have led to the accident in question (given that the third party was the owner of the building).          

The court analysed the first above mentioned condition in light of the definition of ‘employer’ in the ‘Occupational Health and Safety Authority Act’ (Chapter 424 of the Laws of Malta).  In terms of the said definition, the role of an employer may not be strictly limited to the traditional concept of “any person for whom work or service is performed by a worker or who has an employment relationship with a worker” but may also be extended to include owners on behalf of whom work is being carried out and with respect to any defects in any tools, materials or equipment as may have been provided by them.

The Court also subsequently had to determine whether the employer had failed to ensure and safeguard the health and safety of the employee in terms of article 6 of Chapter 424 of the Laws of Malta.  The Court deliberated that a sole employee could not be expected to keep up with such a work place’s exigencies, concluding that a link of causality subsists between the spilled water on the floor and the failure in employing a sufficient number of employees. 

In light of this judgment, a careful consideration of the work tasks and the allocation of the same become all the more crucial.  Having overworked employees may entail a finding of responsibility due to a lack of preventive measures aimed towards reducing occupational health and safety risks.    

[1] Decided on 1st November 2019.