The public sector team has recently represented North Yorkshire County Council in relation to an employer’s liability claim, which served as a reassuring reminder of the limits to employer’s duties.
In the context of the growing perception that employers’ are under onerous obligations and ever expanding duties this is a positive decision for employers and suggests a willingness of the court to redress the balance in claims of this type.
The details of the case
The claim arose as a result of an accident that took place whilst the claimant was working in the community. She was attending a service user’s property and sustained injury when her trouser leg became caught in a fireguard and this caused her to fall. The claimant alleged that the walkway between the sofa and the fireguard at the property was so small that it caused a hazard.
Furthermore, it was purported by the claimant that she had previously reported her concerns regarding the gap between the fireguard and the sofa to her manager and that colleagues had also had near misses as a result of the dangerous layout of the room. The claimant argued that the Council had failed to consider her size when risk assessing the property and the amount of space available for her to work in.
The claim was defended to trial. Claims brought by individuals who sustained injury whilst working in the community are notoriously difficult to defend. Counsel, Nihhil Arora of Ropewalk Chambers, stated “This claim highlighted the importance of working closely with your witnesses in order to get the detailed evidence needed to present a robust defence at trial”.
The Judge held that he was not satisfied that the room layout amounted to a hazard which presented as a foreseeable risk of injury. Furthermore, the claimant was not able to persuade the court that there had been any other near misses, or that she had reported the walkway as being a danger prior to the accident. The property was outside of the Council’s control.
It was held that the claimant had attended the property numerous times previously and did not need to be warned of the gap.
Crucially the Judge concluded that the Council took all reasonable care to provide the claimant, and its other staff, with a safe place of work. The claim was dismissed.
What this outcome means
The outcome of this claim is reassuring to employers’ and highlights the common sense approach that the courts are willing to take, as to the extent of employers’ duties.
This is a sensible decision and emphasises the importance of providing a robust defence in claims where the employer can not be reasonably expected to be held liable for the claimant sustaining injury in the workplace.
Written by Rachael Davies