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Court upholds $35m award for workplace injury

Published:Sunday | March 17, 2019 | 12:00 AMMcPherse Thompson - Assistant Editor-Business
The Supreme Court in downtown Kingston.

The Court of Appeal has upheld a $35 million award to a labourer whose legs were amputated nearly 13 years ago as a result of an accident, described as catastrophic, while cleaning a concrete mixer at the marl quarry where he worked.

President of the Appeal Court Justice Dennis Morrison, in a decision delivered recently, noted that the challenge was made against a judgement given on January 11, 2013, in which Justice Brian Sykes found in favour of Curlon Orlando Lawrence in a claim against Channus Block and Marl Quarry Limited, his former employer, for negligence and breach of duty to provide a safe system of work.

Resulting from the accident at the St Ann-based quarry, Lawrence had to undergo bilateral above-knee amputations, leading to a 64 per cent whole person disability and a subsequent diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression.

The judge ruled that the company was negligent and as Lawrence’s employer, was in breach of its duty to provide him with a safe system of work.

Having found for Lawrence, Justice Sykes awarded him general damages of $34.256 million and special damages of $1.782 million.

Channus argued on appeal that the judge’s award of general damages was “wholly erroneous and inordinately high”, and the award of special damages included items that were neither claimed nor proved by Lawrence.

The quarry accident, which Justice Sykes described as horrific in his ruling, took place on September 23, 2006. According to the appeal court judgement, Lawrence and the ancillary defendant, Owen Bailey, were assigned by Donovan Bailey, one of their supervisors, to clean the mixer.

That was usually done by using a two-pound sledgehammer to remove hardened concrete deposited on the inside of the mixer whenever it was used to make concrete blocks. While Lawrence was actually inside the mixer, Bailey pressed the on/off switch and activated the paddles, leading to the injury. Bailey did not know that his co-worker was inside the mixer at the time.

Justice Morrison said that it was clear from the evidence that, as Justice Sykes found, neither Bailey nor Lawrence, both of whom were assigned to clean the mixer, had received any specific training on the safety considerations relating to the task.

The injury left Lawrence unable to work.

“The medical evidence amply demonstrated that he would, virtually for the rest of his life, suffer a severe – and perhaps insurmountable ¬ handicap in the labour market. In these circumstances, as it seems to me, the judge was fully entitled to award him damages under both heads of damage, that is, loss of future earnings and handicap in the labour market,” Justice Morrison said.

Lawrence was represented by attorney Sean Kinghorn while attorney Nesta-Claire Hunter represented Channus Block and Marl Quarry.