Written by Rod Dutton, Solicitor
In this first of an occasional series of articles Rod Dutton discusses accidents at work. Rod is a Fellow of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers. He deals with all sorts of injury compensation claims but with a particular interest in accidents at work.
If you have an accident at work you may think that you are automatically entitled to compensation. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Most people are aware that employers must insure their employees against accidents and although this is true it is important to remember that it is the employer that is insured. For the employee to recover compensation he or she will have to prove that the employer bears legal responsibility or ‘liability’ for the accident.
Humphries Kirk offers free initial advice on all accident compensation enquiries. Where we are able to take on a case we can offer no win no fee.
Essentially your lawyer will be looking at three things:-
- Breach of duty
In most cases the cause of an accident is clear but nevertheless it is for a claimant to prove the cause. Where a claimant is unable to do so the claim fails.
One example of failure to prove cause arises with what are believed to be repetitive injuries. A worker might suffer from back pain which he or she believes has been caused by, for example, repetitive lifting at work. If the medical evidence casts doubt on this the claim will often prove to be a struggle. What the employee will need to show is that the repetitive process either caused or contributed to the injury he or she complains of.
Breach of Duty
The next thing is proving breach of duty. An employer has a legal duty of care to protect his or her employees. The employer must: –
- Provide a safe system of working
- Provide a safe place of work
- Provide competent colleaguesProvide adequate training
- Assess risks
In considering new claims your solicitor will be looking to work out whether the employer can be criticised on any of these counts, because if so then the employer will have been in breach of their duty of care to the worker and a compensation claim is likely to succeed. Specific cases will be discussed in a later article.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 sets out many of the employer’s legal duties and a good working knowledge of the Act is essential for any lawyer working in the field. There are many sets of regulations which have been made under the Act to include regulations applying to specific workplaces or industrial processes, and regulations which apply more generally with a view to protecting workers against specific types of injury such as falls from height, the need for well-marked and safe traffic routes in factories and the risks associated with manual handling. An employer must assess these risks and must act on the findings of the risk assessment. A failure by the employer to assess risk or to assess it properly is often the key to a successful personal injury claim.
Where a claimant is able to prove liability an issue sometimes arises as to contributory negligence. An employer’s insurers will often argue that, even where the employer is to blame, the blame for the accident is shared because the claimant has contributed to the accident by his or her own negligence. Your lawyer will discuss this with you in appropriate cases but an employer has to prove contributory negligence in the same way as the employee or worker has to prove negligence. Your lawyer will be reluctant to accept arguments of contributory negligence, the allegation is often put forward by insurers without adequate support and your lawyer will be looking to protect you against that.
The next thing will be to show damage. Damage includes injury compensation and any financial losses that reasonably flow from the accident. Typically, these losses will include a claim for loss of earnings but may also include a range of other financial losses, such as medical expenses, travel costs and in cases involving significant injuries the cost of care as the client recovers from his or her injuries. Where care is provided by family or friends a claim for the notional cost can be made even though the care is given freely and without financial obligation.
Cause and damage are often closely interconnected. It is for the claimant to prove on the balance of probabilities, that the damage claimed has been caused by the accident in question.
It is a sad fact that there are upwards of half a million accidents at work in the UK every year and typically more than 100 fatal accidents. The figures for 2020, as reported by the Health and Safety Executive, are these:-
- 700,000 accidents
- 65,427 more serious accidents
- 111 fatal accidents
- 38.8 million working days lost to accident or work related illness