In the recent case of DAVID HARRIS v (1) BARTRUMS HAULAGE & STORAGE LTD (2) PAUL ANDRE ROMBOUGH (T/A PAR EUROPEAN) (2020), the court held that a claimant who had been injured at work was the author of his own misfortune. The claimant was employed to drive a lorry with a trailer attached. He was seriously injured when the lorry and trailer rolled over him as the brakes had not been applied.
Facts of the case
An injury claim was brought arising from a serious accident which occurred on 24 February 2015. The action was against the first defendant haulier, who employed the claimant, and the second defendant, was a subcontractor.
The claimant was an experienced lorry driver who had worked for the first defendant from 9 February 2015 and also prior to this for about 12 weeks as an agency driver. He was fully trained.
On the day of the accident the claimant was required to take a tractor unit to a site in Kettering and to pick up a loaded trailer which had been parked there by the second defendant. There was a slight slope on the site.
The claimant sustained serious injuries when the tractor and trailer rolled over him. The brakes of neither the tractor nor the trailer had been applied at the time.
Numerous allegations were made against the employer in negligence with the main allegation against the second defendant being that they had failed to engage the trailer's parking brake.
The court accepted the defendants’ case that the claimant's own failings had been the sole cause of the accident. Whilst it was held that there had been breaches of duty by the employer regarding the claimant's induction and risk assessment, neither breach had caused the claimant's injury. Even if a more thorough induction process had been undertaken this would not have resulted in the claimant understanding or applying safety measures any differently. In addition, a risk assessment of the actual site would not have required the introduction of any measures over and above those which were taken.
The court accepted the second defendant's evidence that he had applied the trailer's brake before leaving the trailer at the site. Therefore there had been no negligence on his part.
The first defendant had provided sufficient training as well as the provision of a safe system of work and safe equipment. By reason of his training and experience, the claimant had a full understanding of the need to apply the brakes of the tractor and trailer. He knew that the site had a slope. The claimant was a fully qualified and trained LGV driver. He had already demonstrated his overall competence prior to the accident when working for the first defendant as an agency driver. The first defendant was entitled to have regard to this knowledge of the claimant's abilities.
Ultimately, the claimant had failed to implement the most basic of safety measures of any driver in failing to apply the handbrake of the tractor. This failure was despite there being both audible and visual warnings in the cab. There was nothing complicated about applying the handbrake in a vehicle which was on a slope. In addition, contrary to safe practice, the claimant had also disengaged the parking brake on the trailer. The claimant was the author of his own misfortune. The claim was therefore dismissed with judgment for the defendants.
It is reassuring to see that common sense can prevail in the most basic of scenarios. It is also a timely reminder that even if there are minor failings on the part of the defendant the effect must have a causal link to the ultimate injury suffered.
Perhaps, the case will go some way towards “putting the brakes on” unmeritorious claims.