Man blames loss of two toes to bus driver’s negligence

A 59-year-old man lost two toes after a bus strike forced him off public transport kilometres away from hospital, where he was due to get an ulcer on his foot examined

Sam Gambin, who is partially sighted, lost two toes after being forced off a public bus during a strike
Sam Gambin, who is partially sighted, lost two toes after being forced off a public bus during a strike

A 59-year-old diabetic man is determined to sue Malta Public Transport for damages after blaming the loss of two toes on a bus driver who made him walk for more than 2km on his way to Mater Dei.

On 14 May, the General Workers’ Union ordered a three-hour bus strike between 8 and 11am and for a further three hours at 4pm after a dispute over wages with the public transport operator. 

Sam Gambin was due to have three appointments at hospital, including one at the Diabetes Foot Clinic to have his ulceration in his right foot checked. 

However, when the bus driver reached the Birkirkara by-pass just after 8am, the woman bus driver told passengers that she would not be driving to Mater Dei and instead gave passengers a choice to either alight the vehicle a few metres away from a bus stop which is some 2km distant from the hospital or disembark at the Valletta terminus. 

Together with a few other passengers, the partially blind Gambin alighted the bus as he feared missing his 8:30am appointment but the long walk on what was a hot day, caused an infection to his ulcerations and in the following weeks he had his big toe and index toe amputated. 

Six years ago, Gambin had lost his third and fourth toe after being diagnosed with diabetes. 

“I’m now a prisoner in my own home,” Gambin says, pointing out that the loss of a further two toes made it almost impossible for him to venture out of home unless he is assisted by somebody else.

However, despite his requests to the health authorities Gambin receives no assistance beyond the regular visits by a nurse to have his wound dressing changed. 

“I need assistance 24 hours a day as I cannot cope, but I have so far received none despite requesting help from Home Help,” he says, adding that his application is entangled in a web of bureaucracy. 

“The bus driver’s actions have radically changed my life,” he says, adding that while he is open to reach an out of court settlement, he is determined to sue Malta Public Transport for the damages he suffered. 

On the ill-fated day the St Paul’s Bay resident was scheduled to undergo blood tests and an eye check up apart from the Diabetes Foot Clinic appointment. 

“The previous day I got to know of the strike from the news, so on 14 May I headed to the bus stop at around 6:30am to board the earliest bus possible to Mater Dei,” he said. 

Upon boarding he asked the woman driver at what time the strike would commence and she informed him that the strike would come into effect at 8am.

The bus departed Bugibba ta 6:55am and only when the bus reached Mosta did the driver inform the passengers that she would not be stopping at any bus stops and head directly to Valletta once the clock struck 8am. 

However, at 8:05am when the bus reached the Naxxar church, the women let people board the bus and she also let another passenger alight at Iklin. 

“When we reached the Birkirkara by-pass some people were waiting on the first bus stop but she waved them off and at that point I told her that I needed to reach hospital and I wasn’t the only one, there were elderly persons, two nuns and a mother with a young child in a pushchair all heading to Mater Dei.”

But the driver retorted that she would not be driving to hospital and instead head straight to Valletta because she insisted that the union’s directive ordered drivers to head to Valletta wherever they were at 8am. 

“I protested that she did not say so when I boarded the bus in Bugibba, otherwise I would have sought alternative means to reach Mater Dei,” Gambin said. 

The driver then proceeded to tell Gambin and the other passengers that they could either descend the bus on the bypass or else disembark in Valletta, the man added. 

Gambin admits to having lost his temper upon hearing this as he could not miss the appointments. 

“I descended and luckily a woman guided me all the way to Mater Dei by holding my hand. If it wasn’t for her I would have never reached hospital.”

To add insult to injury, upon approaching hospital he saw buses disembark passengers at the bus stop outside Mater Dei.  

Following the gruelling walk, Gambin reached hospital only to be told that the wound on his foot had “exploded” following the long walk. 

This is corroborated by Gambin’s podiatrist who, in an initial report, said that the long walk “may have caused his ulcers to worsen and aggravate his condition.”

As a result, his foot swelled and during a routine check two weeks later, he was told that his wound was seriously infected and urgently submitted to the emergency department where his big toe was amputated. 

“I was told that if the toe wasn’t removed I could lose the whole foot,” he says, adding that his index toe was amputated a few weeks later because the infection spread. 

Following the incident, Gambin got in touch with Malta Public Transport and the company identified the driver and confirmed that Gambin and other passengers descended the bus on the Birkirkara by-pass after reviewing CCTV footage from the bus. 

In an email sent to Gambin, the company’s Customer Experience Manager Diane Micallef offered her “sincere apologies” and promised that the report would be dealt with seriously. 

Micallef also informed Gambin that the company would be sending a car to pick him up from his house in Bugibba on Tuesday, 9 June to attend the disciplinary hearing over the incident, however the company failed to do so.

Following several failed attempts to contact Micallef by phone, Gambin – who depends on others to read and write emails because of his poor eyesight – was told that the car was never sent because the company was expecting a written confirmation of his attendance. 

The company has so far failed to explain what action was taken and instead told Gambin that it “investigated the circumstances of your report and followed internal disciplinary procedure in a timely manner.”

Malta Public Transport failed to provide such answers to MaltaToday and in a brief reply the company said that it takes “such allegations very seriously.”

The company claimed that “throughout this period, the company has been in constant contact with Mr Gambin. The company has offered all its support to Mr Gambin accordingly.” 

But Gambin denies this and accusing the company of lying says, “since then (10 June) I have never been contacted by the company and they have never offered any support at all.” 

In the wake of the incident Gambin called the then GWU secretary-general, Tony Zarb, who said that the union had directed drivers to complete all trips. 

“He told me the people come first,” he says, however upon telling the former union boss that he would be taking matters further, Zarb hung up. 

Moreover, Zarb’s successor, Josef Bugeja, gave Gambin a different explanation.

Bugeja told the man that bus drivers were ordered to discontinue their trips after 8am and in reply to questions sent by this newspaper, the union said passengers were given a choice to either descend the bus wherever it was at 8am or enter Valletta on the day of the “alleged case.” 

The union also failed to reply to questions over the disciplinary action taken against the driver. 

Gambin says that after threatening to take legal action, the company and the union have severed all communications. 

Apart from an elemental formal apology, Gambin is determined to seek compensation. “I will sue them for damages, I will sue for pain and suffering. As I have already told Diane Micallef, I am ready to settle out of court, but if they want to go for the long haul I have all the time in the world to go for it.”