Meat plant worker sues over Covid-19 infection

Offaly man behind first known damages claim involving virus case in a meat factory

A Co Offaly meat plant worker who nearly died from Covid-19 is suing his employer for personal injuries in the first known damages claim involving a case in a meat factory.

Paul Feighery has taken a High Court action against Rosderra Irish Meats Group claiming that he contracted the virus while working at its plant in Roscrea, Co Tipperary.

Mr Feighery took ill in March 2020. His health rapidly deteriorated and he was admitted to Midland Regional Hospital Tullamore. He spent more than two weeks on a ventilator in ICU before recovering and being discharged in May 2020. He still suffers ill effects from the disease.

His solicitors, Deirdre K Ryan & Co in Roscrea, confirmed that Mr Feighery was taking a personal injuries and negligence case against Rosderra.

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He is claiming damages for severe personal injuries, allegedly caused by the company’s negligence, breach of contract and breach of duty, including statutory duty.

Total disregard

In his claim filed in January, he is alleging that Rosderra showed a total disregard for his safety and welfare. The company has yet to file a defence in the action.

Rosderra chief executive Jim Hanley had no comment. The firm's solicitors, Benjamin J Higgins, said: "As this matter is the subject of legal proceedings, we cannot comment at this stage."

The first legal case arising from a Covid-19 case in a meat-plant worker could spark a flurry of similar actions by people who claim they contracted the virus as a result of their working conditions.

Rosderra suffered one of the biggest Covid-19 outbreaks at any workplace in the country during the first wave of the pandemic. Regarded as an essential food business, the company – the largest pig-meat processing plant in the State – remained open throughout the pandemic.

Sinn Féin TD for Laois-Offaly Brian Stanley raised concerns in the Dáil about staff infections at Rosderra in April 2020 claiming that out of about 350 workers in Roscrea, up to 140 were out sick.

He claimed at the time that workers who later tested positive were allowed to work next to healthy staff. The outbreak prompted the HSE to mass-test hundreds of staff for Covid-19.

Meat plants have been among the workplaces worst affected by the virus as the circulation of chilled air and close-quarters working conditions encourages transmission.

A surge in infections out of meat plants in August 2020 led to regional restrictions in Kildare, Laois and Offaly, the first and only local lockdowns of the pandemic.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent