Ballroom dancer sued for back injury at meat plant ‘photographed with chainsaw and driving backhoe while working’

A former meat factory and master ballroom dancer, who was allegedly seen in photographs chopping wood during a period when he was said to be unable to work, has dropped his High Court claim for loss of earnings against his former employer.

Rang Burgess, 45, of Hillview Drive, Thurles, Co. Tipperary, is suing the Callan Bacon Company Ltd over a back injury he allegedly sustained while lifting pork at work on November 24, 2016.

The married father of three claimed he was unable to work between December 2016 and May 2019, during which time he received health and accident benefits from the state. He demanded 25,000 euros for alleged loss of earnings minus social assistance.

Mr Burgess, a five-time national ballroom dancing champion, also claimed his dancing skills were impaired as a result of his injuries.

Callan Bacon denied all claims.

Mr Burgess was cross-examined by defense attorney Elaine Morgan SC with Conor Roberts BL for around two hours. During that time, he was shown CCTV footage of him operating an excavator and photos of him appearing to be cutting and throwing wood.

She said the pictures were taken on dates in 2017 and 2018. Mr Burgess confirmed it was him, but said the pictures were not taken on the proposed dates.

After a brief adjournment in proceedings on Wednesday, Judge Tony O’Connor was told the loss of earnings claim was being withdrawn and could be thrown out without an order.

Earlier, his attorney David Kennedy SC said his client felt “acute pain” in his back when he performed a repetitive twisting motion while lifting 12kg cuts of meat onto a conveyor belt.

In their case, the table he worked at was about three inches lower than the conveyor belt, meaning the employee had to lift the meat onto the belt about 200 times an hour.

It was alleged that the employer acted negligently by not providing a table height with the belt.

While Mr Burgess tried to continue working, he was forced to walk because of the pain, it said. His back was also too painful to continue his work when he returned on December 10, the court heard.

He was referred for an MRI, which showed he had a ruptured one of his discs.

Mr Burgess told the court he received two spinal injections in 2018 and 2019, the second of which was “quite effective”. He returned to light work with his brother’s plant rental company in May 2019, he said.

Under cross-examination of Ms Morgan, Mr Burgess said in defense that he had taken his brother’s van about seven times for pay while he was unemployed. He said he didn’t think Callan Bacon wanted him back.

Ms Morgan said minutes of staff meetings with Mr Burgess showed the company presented various options for lighter work he could do there, including operating a forklift on the factory floor.

He denied that the company offered “every possible option,” adding that they didn’t take up some of his suggestions.

He was accused of claiming in a staff interview that he could not operate a forklift because there was no suspension and that he could injure himself if he drove over a bump. He said he remembered something along those lines.

The court was shown footage taken by an investigator which Ms Morgan said showed him operating an excavator in Clonmel on August 12, 2017. Mr Burgess accepted he was in the video but said he did not remember the occasion.

Ms Morgan said he was observed working at the site for more than four hours that day and several other days this month.

Mr Burgess replied: “That work has not been done at this stage and I insist on it.”

The court was also shown photos that the defense claimed were taken in February 2018. Mr Burgess said it appeared in the photographs that he was chopping wood, but he does not generally cut wood except for a few months ago.

Ms Morgan said the defense would claim Mr Burgess was seen cutting wood with a chainsaw in February 2018, at times throwing logs out of the way. Mr Burgess denied that the alleged date was correct.

He said he “didn’t do much” at the Clonmel site, but the images of the defense “were trying to tell a different story, so they are”. Ballroom dancer sued for back injury at meat plant ‘photographed with chainsaw and driving backhoe while working’

Fry Electronics Team

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