Cleaning company to pay for slip-and-fall injury

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Justice Robin Mohammed – File photo

A janitorial company has been found “wholly liable” in a slip-and-fall accident case and ordered to compensate the employee of an oil-and-gas service provider.

Justice Robin Mohammed found Mega Brite Services (MBS) “wholly liable in negligence” for Margaret Asson-Sealy’s injuries, which she suffered on April 1, 2014, when she slipped and fell because of a wet floor at her workplace.

Asson-Sealy worked for Industrial Plant Services Ltd (IPSL).

She sued IPSL and MBS, but the judge dismissed her claim against her employer, saying he could not conclude it was responsible for the cleaning company’s breach of a contract for janitorial services.

Mega Brite was ordered to pay a total of $132,000 in general and special damages, plus $20,072.61 in pre-judgment interest and costs.

After she slipped and fell face forward, Asson-Sealy had surgery on her right shoulder. She has been left with permanent partial disability of her right rotator cuff and still experiences pain, stiffness and discomfort, and has not regained mobility in her right arm.

In its defence, IPSL denied negligence, asserting it hired a reputable and skilled independent contractor to carry out janitorial services which was solely liable” for Asson-Sealy’s injuries.

The company also insisted it was not responsible for MBS’s negligence, as the terms of a contract for janitorial services were breached by mopping the floors at a time not permitted and failing to put warning signs to indicate the floor was wet.

IPSL contended that the contract stipulated that the floors should be mopped between 6-7.30 am and 4-6 pm and there should be warning signs in wet areas, although one of its witnesses admitted that the floors to the finance department – where Asson-Sealy slipped and fell – had been mopped earlier because of restricted access to that area after work hours.

Mega Brite claimed its staff were trained and regularly mopped the floors between 2.30 and 3 pm while taking adequate precautions by putting “wet floor” signs around the mopped area.

The cleaning company contended that Asson-Sealy was negligent because she rushed out of the office in the corridor in high heels, past their cleaners and the yellow wet-floor sign.

The company also alleged when she reached an office door, she pulled at it instead of pushing, which led to her fall.

“It is apparent from the facts that the parties have accused each other of being responsible for the claimant’s injuries,” the judge noted.

However, he said although there was evidence from the two janitors who mopped the floor where Asson-Sealy fell, she would not have seen them because of where she fell and where they were located.

He also said while IPSL had a duty of care for her safety, it demonstrated this by contracting MBS for janitorial services after a rigorous procurement process.

Mohammed said while there was some suggestion that IPSL modified the terms of the contract by allowing earlier cleaning of the office space, there was no evidence from the cleaning company to support this, nor did the two janitors who testified at the trial have the authority to speak to the contractual terms or any variation.

The judge found, “The second defendant breached its contract with the first defendant by mopping the corridor of the finance department before the stipulated hours and by failing to appropriately instruct and supervise its staff to ensure contract compliance.”

He also said he could not make a finding of vicarious liability against IPSL or contributory negligence on Asson-Sealy’s part because of her footwear.

“…There is insufficient evidence to convince the court that the claimant was wearing stiletto heels at the time of the accident, in breach of the first defendant’s policy and resultantly contributed to her injuries. As such, the second defendant’s allegations to this effect must fail.”

Mohammed granted a 42-day stay of execution of his orders.

Asson-Sealey was represented by attorneys Justin Junkere and Tsian Rodulfo.

Roger-Mark Kawalsingh and Ashely Roopchandsingh represented IPSL. Bryan McCutcheon represented MBS.