A bus driver who was stabbed with a syringe by an assailant who boarded the bus in Cork City has been awarded €63,750 by the High Court.
Patrick O’Brien sued Bus Éireann over the incident that occurred near the terminus in Mayfield on the evening of April 6, 2018.
The assailant stabbed Mr O’Brien with a syringe and grabbed a bag of money from his driver’s cab. Mr O’Brien was treated with medication for hepatitis and HIV, neither of which he caught.
The attacker could reach the driver because his protective screen, which separates him from passengers, was open, said Ms Justice Marguerite Bolger in a ruling published on Tuesday.
While Bus Éireann commendably supplied him with a screen that likely would have prevented the assault if it had been closed and locked, he was never instructed or advised to keep it shut, she said.
Provision of the screen “was not enough, with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act of 2005 requiring an employer to determine and implement health and safety measures necessary for protection of an employee", Ms Justice Bolger added.
She was satisfied Bus Éireann failed in its common law and statutory duties to, insofar as it is reasonably practicable, provide Mr O’Brien with a safe place of work as required by the 2005 Act.
Mr O’Brien also had a duty to protect his own health and safety, so by keeping the screen open he was 15% liable for the event, she held.
Following the incident, Mr O’Brien attended his GP for several months and was prescribed sleeping medication and later, in 2019, antidepressant medication. When he returned to work nearly a year after the event, he experienced anxiety and panic attacks. He continues to experience difficulties, but to a lesser level than previously, said the judge.
Mr O’Brien, of Hollywood Estate, Blarney Road, Cork, told the court he always drove with the screen open as it was otherwise very difficult to hear passengers.
Bus Éireann said it was company policy that the screen should be closed. However, the judge said, the company gave no evidence that this was communicated to Mr O’Brien during his training.
Ms Justice Bolger said the bus firm recorded eight separate incidents of threats of assault or actual assaults on its drivers between 2014 and the incident. Additionally, during this time there were 14 other incidents of actual or threatened violence or disorderly behaviour from passengers.
The risk of assault on Mr O’Brien was a “reasonably foreseeable risk” that should have been addressed by the bus company through a suitable and effective control measure, she said.
The 2005 act requires an employer to prepare and revise as appropriate adequate plans in the case of an emergency or serious and imminent danger. There was no evidence, she said, of the risk of assault to a driver being addressed by Bus Éireann in a risk assessment.
The company should not have stopped at just providing a screen, she said, adding it should also have “communicated, implemented and supervised the company’s policy of keeping the screen [closed] to its employees”, she added.
She awarded €75,000 plus special damages, but she discounted this by 15% to account for Mr O’Brien’s “modest” contribution to liability.