Maid's electrocution not my fault: landlord

Woman who went on roof of building to repair leak during a rainstorm found dead by employer.

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ABU DHABI // A landlord convicted of negligence that led to the electrocution of a maid last year denied responsibility for the incident in court this week. The landlord, an Emirati, was found guilty of negligence in the death of a Filipino woman working for a French family.

Prosecutors said that on December 12, the maid went to the roof of her apartment during a rainstorm to try to fix a leak. The roof was covered with 20cm of water, the court heard, and had faulty air-conditioning wires. The maid stepped into the water and died. But the landlord's lawyer, Mohammed al Khazraji, claimed in the Appeals Court this week that the maid would have been electrocuted through her feet if that were true. He said the employers' story was flawed because the maid was electrocuted through her hands, according to a forensics report. That, the lawyer argued, implied the family were responsible.

HE, a French woman for whom the maid worked, testified that she had gone upstairs to look for the maid because she had promised the maid she would help her cook. She found her dead and carried her downstairs after turning off the electricity, the court heard. The landlord's lawyer argued that HE could not have turned off the electricity from her apartment with the help of the doorman, who said the electricity was not turned off.

Abu Dhabi Court of First Instance had previously fined the landlord Dh1,000 and ordered Dh100,000 blood money to be paid to the maid's family in the Philippines. The landlord was not named in court documents. This latest case was one of several in which the courts have struggled to determine culpability in workplace deaths. A legal expert said that responsibility for such incidents was often ambiguous. In other similar cases, he said, prosecutors accused maintenance companies or individuals who were not the landlords.

The law stipulates that an employer or a company can be held accountable for death or injury if the incident was caused by negligence, including recklessness, failing to take precautions or failing to abide by safety measures. If such negligence leads to death, those responsible can be jailed for one year or fined. If negligence leads to the death of more than three people, they can be jailed for up to five years.

The issue was highlighted recently in a ruling by the Federal Supreme Court. The court rejected a lower decision that blamed two companies for the death of a Pakistani construction worker in Sharjah, who died because of hazardous waste kept on site. The justices ruled the company for which he worked was not responsible because a subcontractor was responsible for safety. In another case, a Sudanese man appeared last month before Abu Dhabi Appellate Court charged with negligence that led to the death of a Bangladeshi worker who fell from a building. The Sudanese man called the police, but told the court he was accused simply because he was the only one around at the site of the incident.

Counsellor Mazen Tajeddine, of the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, said responsibility for such deaths is decided on a case-by-case basis. He said prosecutors would determine the cause of the death before charging anyone. If the death could have been avoided by a certain measure taken by a certain institution, he said, prosecutors would press charges against them.