piBlawg

the personal injury and clinical negligence blog

A collaboration between Rebmark Legal Solutions and 1 Chancery Lane

Vicarious liability: extension, extension, extension

 “The law of vicarious liability is on the move” are the opening words to the opinion of Lord Reed in Cox v Ministry of Justice [2016] UKSC 10 (quoting Lord Phillips in Various Claimants v Catholic Child Welfare Society [2012] UKSC 56). The Supreme Court has handed down two judgments in the field of vicarious liability (Cox and Mohamud v WM Morrison [2016] UKSC 11) which continue to extend its scope. The five policy reasons for the vicarious liability relationship identified in the Christian Brothers case have effectively been narrowed to three in Cox - a case in which the Supreme Court found that the prison service was vicariously liable for the negligence of a prisoner working in a prison kitchen. In Mohamud the Supreme Court stuck to the articulation of the law in Lister v Hesley Hall [2002] 1 AC 215 but elaborated saying that the court has to consider (1) what functions or “field of activities” have been entrusted by the employer to the employee (a question to be approached “broadly”) and (2) whether there was a sufficient connection between the position in which he was employed and his wrongful conduct to make it right for the employer to be held liable. That broad approach meant that the employer of an attendant at a petrol station was vicariously liable for the attendant’s violent attack on the claimant on the petrol station forecourt. For more detailed analysis of these decisions see 1 Chancery Lane Personal Injury Briefing March 2016. Photograph courtesy of Freefoto.com                                                                 http://www.freefoto.com/thanks.jsp

Top personal injury decisions of the Court of Appeal in 2015

The Court of Appeal has made a number of important decisions in 2015 in the field of personal injury. As the year draws to a close, Ella Davis and I review some of the most important of them for the PI practitioner. They cover psychiatric damage, causation, quantum, the Athens Convention, jurisdiction, duties of care, vicarious liability and non-delegable duties... Psychiatric Damage Liverpool Women’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust v Ronayne [2015] EWCA Civ 588 was a case of a claimant claiming damages for psychiatric injury consequent on seeing the condition of a loved one brought about by the negligence of a defendant. Of the four requirements for recovery, the decision focused on whether C’s illness had been “induced by a sudden shocking event.” Three issues were at the heart of the case: (1) whether C had suffered a recognised psychiatric illness, (2) Whether there had been “an event” and (3) how “shocking” the event must be. Edward Bishop QC provided a masterly analysis of this and other decisions in the 1 Chancery Lane October 2015 PI Briefing. In brief, C’s wife became extremely unwell due to the negligence of D. C claimed he had suffered psychiatric injury as a result of the shock of seeing his wife’s sudden deterioration and appearance in hospital. The CA confirmed that courts should pay close attention to diagnostic criteria, that whether an event is ‘horrifying’ must be judged by objective standards and by reference to persons of ordinary susceptibility and that for an event in a hospital to be ‘shocking’ required something “wholly exceptional in some way so as to shock or horrify”. It also considered what was meant by an ‘event’ and ‘sudden’ finding that C had not been exposed to one event (“a seamless tale with an obvious beginning and an equally obvious end”) but a series of events with no “inexorable progression”. What had happened was not sudden, it had not caused an “assault upon the senses” but at each stage C had been conditioned for what he was about to perceive. Causation Reaney v University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust  [2015] EWCA Civ 119 was considered on this blog in a posting by Ella Davis “Quantity not Quality”. She rightly observes that the decision brings clarity to the law rather than any new departure. The CA considered causation in a case where a patient was a paraplegic requiring a care regime (due to non-negligent causes) but due to the negligence of D causing pressure sores, her care needs were increased. The question was whether D caused all her care needs or whether D was only liable for those needs less the needs which she would have had but for the negligence. The key issue was whether the pre-existing care needs were qualitatively different from those caused by the negligence or whether they were merely quantitatively different. The CA found they were only quantitatively different and therefore D was only liable for C’s increased care requirements. In future parties will doubtless pay careful attention to whether losses are qualitatively or quantitatively different as a result of negligence adding to a pre-existing condition. Causation and the Burden of Proof Graves v Brouwer [2015] EWCA Civ 595 concerned a house fire of unknown cause. Mr Brouwer set fire to a small bundle of papers in the passageway next to his house. Very shortly afterward the roof of his neighbour’s house caught fire. The experts agreed that the chances of an ember from the papers travelling to the eaves of the building and starting a fire were very low but, absent arson, were unable to come up with a more probable cause. The judge rejected arson as fanciful and found that, while the flying ember theory was scientifically improbable, the Claimant succeeded on causation. The Court of Appeal overturned her decision saying she had failed to ask herself the ultimate question whether the flying ember theory was more likely or not to be true. The fact that no other possible causes were identified, in large part because there was no investigation at the time, did not make it more probable than not the fire was caused by a flying ember. As Roderick Abbot observed in his blog post “Sherlock Holmes in the Court of Appeal”, the exercise is not one of identifying the least unlikely cause. The Claimant had failed to discharge the burden of proof and that was all the judge was required to find. Quantum Billett v Ministry of Defence [2015] EWCA Civ 773 concerns how courts should assess damages for loss of future earning capacity in circumstances where the claimant suffers from a minor disability, is in steady employment and is earning at his full pre-accident rate. Should the court follow the traditional Smith v Manchester approach or should the court use the Ogden Tables, suitably adjusted? C suffered from a minor Non Freezing Cold Injury (“NFCI”) which had a substantial impact on his day to day life in cold weather. The condition had less impact on his work as a lorry driver than it had on his leisure activities. The judge found that his loss of future earning capacity should be assessed by using Ogden Tables A and B, suitably adjusted, not by applying Smith v Manchester.  The CA upheld his decision that C had a minor disability clarifying that where a court considers whether an injury substantially limits a claimant’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, the enquiry should be directed at what the claimant cannot do rather than what he can do. The CA overturned the judge’s decision to use the Ogden Tables: unadjusted they produced an unrealistic future loss; adjustment however was a matter of broad judgment which was no more scientific than the approach in Smith v Manchester. The judgment still leaves open the question when a disability becomes serious enough to engage the approach in Ogden Tables A and B and when and how those might be adjusted.  However as Andrew Spencer said in his blog on this case (Loss of future earnings and disability) the case is strong authority for retaining the Smith v Manchester approach in cases of minor disabilities with little effect on the claimant’s chosen career. Athens Convention In South West Strategic Health Authority v Bay Island Voyages [2015] EWCA Civ 708 the CA considered two issues relating to the Athens Convention (which governs personal injury to passengers at sea). The first was whether it extended to claims against carriers for contribution to liability of others and the second was the effect of the time bar prescribed by the convention. Dr Feest was injured in a boating accident in the Bristol Channel. The carrier was Bay Island Voyages (“BIV”). Dr Feest’s first firm of solicitors failed to issue against BIV within the 2 year time limit under the Convention and so she sued her employer SWSHA on the basis the accident occurred in the course of her employment. SWSHA joined BIV who successfully applied to have the Part 20 proceedings struck out. The Court of Appeal found that the provisions of the convention were not directly applicable to SWSHA’s claim against BIV. It also found that the time bar in Article 16 did not extinguish the cause of action but only barred the remedy: this was critical for SWSHA’s contribution claim as, if the limitation provisions had extinguished the right to bring the claim, under the provisions of the Civil Liability (Contribution) Act 1978 SWSHA could only have brought a claim within 2 years of the accident. Ian Miller, who represented SWSHA with John Ross QC, blogged on the case: “Contribution, limitation and the Athens Convention.” Jurisdiction Brownlie v Four Seasons Holding Incorporated [2015] EWCA Civ 665 involved the application of the Canada Trust gloss and a novel question about where damage in a tort claim was sustained. C bought an off package excursion in Egypt in which her husband was killed and she was injured. She booked the excursion by making a telephone call in England to the concierge at the hotel in Egypt. After the accident she brought proceedings in the High Court in contract and tort. She brought three tort claims (1) in respect of her own injuries; (2) as a dependant of her husband and (3) for the loss suffered by her husband’s estate. On appeal the court of appeal, applying the Canada Trust gloss – which is well set out and explained in the judgment - found that there was a good arguable case as to the identity of the defendant and as to whether the contract was made in England. This was not novel point of law: it was merely a finding that it was likely that C had called the concierge with proposals and he had accepted them. Given a contract for an excursion is made at the place where the words of acceptance are received, the contract was made in England. The novel point of law considered by the CA was the question of whether damage was sustained within the jurisdiction for the purposes of C’s claim in tort. This is the requirement of paragraph 3.1(9)(a) of the Practice Direction 6B (the tort gateway) for permission to serve out of the jurisdiction. The CA held the jurisdictional gateway should be interpreted consistently with Rome II and therefore the country in which the damage occurs should be the country where the injury was sustained regardless of the country in which the indirect consequences could occur. Thus the Claimant’s personal claim and the claim on behalf of the estate should be brought in Egypt. However, the dependency claim under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 was not properly described as a consequential loss it was an independent loss and so the Claimant had shown a good arguable case that English law should apply to this claim. Matthew Chapman who appeared in this case with John Ross QC has blogged on it here. Duties of care and mental impairment In Dunnage v Randall [2015] EWCA Civ 673  the Defendant (“V”) was a paranoid schizophrenic who poured petrol over himself and ignited it, injuring his nephew the Claimant. V’s mental state was agreed to be grossly impaired. On a spectrum between completely healthy volition and absent volition he was at least 95 per cent impaired and probably 100 per cent absent volition. A number of helpful points arise from the three lengthy judgments given. First, the court rejected any need to differentiate between mental and physical impairment. Second, a person with a mental impairment owes a duty of care. Third, the standard of care should not be adjusted to take account of the personal characteristics of the Defendant, it is purely objective. Fourth, only Defendants whose attack or medical incapacity has the effect of entirely eliminating any fault or responsibility for the injury can be said not to have broken their duty of care. The Claimant’s appeal was therefore allowed. Interestingly the court noted that insanity is a defence in crime because criminal law is punitive whereas the function of the law of tort is to compensate victims. Vicarious Liability In Graham v Commercial Bodyworks Ltd [2015] EWCA Civ 47  the court had to determine whether an employer was vicariously liable for the acts of an employee who sprayed a co-worker’s overalls with thinning agent and then set them alight causing him considerable injury. Having looked at the Canadian authorities in sex abuse cases, the court considered that the starting point was to examine whether there was a close connection between the creation or enhancement of a risk by the employer and the wrong that accrues therefrom. In this case the employers created a risk in requiring their employees to work with paint thinners but there was not a sufficiently close connection between that risk and the wrongful act. The wrongful act did not further the employer’s aims and it was not related to friction, confrontation or intimacy inherent in the employer's enterprise. Where the employment does not require the exercise of force and there is no inherent friction, intentional conduct in the workplace, whether horseplay or more serious acts, will not normally give rise to vicarious liability. Vicarious Liability and Non-Delegable Duties The Court of Appeal in NA v Nottingham County Council [2015] EWCA Civ 1139 held that a local authority was not vicariously liable for the abuse of a child by the foster carers with which it placed her, nor did it owe her a non-delegable duty to protect her from harm. The relationship between the local authority and the foster carers was not sufficiently akin to one of employment to give rise to vicarious liability. On the issue of a non-delegable duty all three members of the court of appeal gave different reasons summarised in our November 2015 PI Briefing. In brief, Tomlinson LJ held that the local authority had discharged rather than delegated its duty in placing the child with foster carers. Burnett LJ held that what the Claimant sought to do was to expand the common law imposing a strict duty on local authorities on the basis that foster parents were not always able to satisfy a claim. Black LJ held that it would not be fair just and reasonable to apply such a duty; in fact it would be unreasonably burdensome and potentially harmful if it led to over cautious practice.  

Stroke Caused By Beauty Facial Case Settles

Claims against negligent beauticians and the like are not altogether uncommon. The injuries tend to be dermatological in nature consequent of some allergic reaction to an untested product. But who would have thought it possible, let alone likely, for someone to suffer a stroke as a result of a beauty facial treatment? Tragically that is what happened to Elizabeth Hughes after her visit to the spa at the Eastwell Manor Hotel. What should have been a weekend treat resulted in a serious stroke that left her disabled for life. Her claim, which otherwise would have been tried in the High Court this week, settled for an undisclosed amount. How did it happen? The medical experts on both sides were agreed that the stroke occurred as a result of a dissection to the carotid artery. The dissection was in all probability caused when beauty cream was massaged onto the sides of her neck by the beauty therapist. The issue was whether she was negligent or had applied an excessive degree of force. Unlike sports injury or deep tissue massages, where there are reported cases of stroke, this was a novel situation. This type of injury had not been encountered previously by beauty therapists. Mrs Hughes who was employed by the NHS as a nurse was left significantly disabled. Her disabilities prevented her from returning to employment in the nursing sector. The case has been watched closely by the beauty industry and the press. (http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/nurse-disabled-stroke-after-allegedly-6798935) Elizabeth Hughes was represented by Edward Bishop QC and Kiril Waite at 1 Chancery Lane, instructed by Ciaran McCabe at Moore Blatch Legal Resolve.

Health and safety and self-employment – where do the boundaries lie?

Regular readers of the piblawg will no doubt recall previous posts discussing the various implications of the Lofstedt report . Published in November 2011, it is of course more correctly referred to as the “Reclaiming Health and Safety for All Review”.  It included a large number of suggested reforms, all aimed at “reducing the burden of health and safety regulation on business, whilst maintaining the progress that has been made in health and safety outcomes”. To date, perhaps the most high profile (and significant) of its implications was of course the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 and its abolition of civil liability for breach of duty under health and safety regulations. We are of course now almost two years on from the coming into force of those changes. Despite this, questions as to what practical effect this change might ultimately have on personal injury practice remain unanswered as yet. It appears likely that further issues may soon arise, with another of the Lofstedt report’s recommendations about to enter into force on 1st October 2015. This is as a result of the coming into force of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (General Duties of Self-Employed Persons)(Prescribed Undertakings) Regulations. The Regulations are very short (hardly longer than their rather verbose title) and have only one practical purpose. This is to exempt the self-employed from the application of health and safety legislation. In this context, this refers to  obligations arising under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.  As a result, health and safety legislation will no longer apply to anyone who is self-employed unless their work activities “may pose a risk to the health or safety of another person (other than the self-employed person carrying it out or their employees)” Certain activities will not be treated as exempt activities, irrespective of whether or not they are being carried out by a self-employed person. In those circumstances, the existing regulatory framework will continue to apply. Work activities that will not be affected by the 2015 Regulations for this reason are identified within its Schedule. Essentially, they include what the HSE refers to as “high risk” activities. These are those involving: (1) agriculture and forestry; (2) work with asbestos or involving the sampling of it; (3) construction, including any activity giving rise to duties under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015; (4) any work to which the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 applies; (5) the “contained use” of genetically modified organisms; and (6) the operation of a railway. It seems unlikely that the description of any of these activities as potentially giving rise to a risk to the health and safety of another is likely to be contentious. What is rather harder to work out is who can (and should) assert that their work activities do not pose a risk to the health and safety of another and that they are thus outside the scope of more extensive regulation. The HSE estimate that 1.7 million people will fall within this category, but working out which side of the line a particular individual might fall is going to be more problematic and, inevitably, is going to provide fertile ground for argument. Putting aside questions of probability and foreseeability, pretty well any work activity might plausibly give rise to risks to others. Presumably therefore, although the Regulations do not actually contain any wording to this effect, the words “may pose a risk” is to be read as indicating that there is a threshold level of risk below which it can be treated as non-existent. Quite where that boundary might lie in practice is however harder to determine. For obvious reasons, there are not yet any decided authorities on the point and presumably will not be for some time to come. Nor is the HSE’s own guidance especially helpful. On the one hand, it suggests that the possibility that someone might be “burnt, scalded, crushed, trip over or fall” will mean that the threshold level of risk has been crossed and that the exemption will not be available. This is understandable. What is perhaps harder to understand is why it is then suggested that a baker working from home would not now be caught within the scope of health and safety law. This uncertainty is not only going to be problematic for personal injury lawyers dealing with these cases at some point in the future. In the very near future, many self-employed people are going to have to elect whether or not to treat themselves as outside the ambit of this area of regulation. Whilst the answer may be obvious in many cases, for those whose activities are perhaps closer to the line, the decision as to whether or not to ignore some more onerous requirements may be a difficult, costly and unwelcome one. Is the making of that decision merely one form of bureaucracy taking the place of another? Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE It seems naïve to think that such a decision is not going to be the subject of regular challenge in the aftermath of an accident. Even if ultimately vindicated, the time, effort and money involved in having to deal with the inevitable consequences of this uncertainty are hardly consistent with the stated aims of the Lofstedt Review. Moreover, where individuals are found to have been in error in treating themselves as being outside the scope of more extensive regulation, the price of making the wrong call on this might be considerable…

Contribution, limitation and the Athens Convention

In South West Strategic Health Authority v Bay Island Voyages [2015] EWCA Civ 708 the Court of Appeal considered the scope of the Athens Convention and the nature of the time-bar in Article 16. In coming to its decision, the Court also considered sections 5(1) and 5(2) of the Carriage by Air Act 1961. In the main action, Dr Feest claims damages for personal injury arising out of an accident which occurred whilst she was a passenger on board The Celtic Pioneer in the Bristol Channel. Her original solicitors missed the two-year time limit for bringing claims under the Athens Convention against the carrier ('BIV'). She issued proceedings against her employer ('SWSHA') one day before the expiry of the three-year time limit under section 11 of the Limitation Act 1980. SWSHA brought a claim for contribution against BIV which was struck out by the district judge. His order was upheld on appeal.  The first issue for the Court of Appeal was whether claims for contribution are encompassed by Article 14 of the Convention which states “no action for damages for the …personal injury to a passenger… shall be brought against a carrier…otherwise than in accordance with this Convention.” On appeal, HHJ Havelock-Allan QC held that Article 14 encompassed contribution claims ([2014] EWHC 177 QB). The Court of Appeal disagreed. The Athens Convention only claims to unify ‘certain rules relating to the carriage by sea of passengers and their luggage’. It is not a complete code and does not encompass contribution claims which are autonomous and derive from the Civil Liability (Contribution) Act 1978. In reaching this conclusion the Court looked at Australian, US and Canadian cases on the equivalent provisions under the Warsaw and Montreal Conventions. The Court of Appeal then considered the nature of the time-bar under Article 16. The importance of this is that SWSHA would not have had a claim for contribution against BIV under the Contribution Act if the effect of Article 16 was to extinguish the cause of action rather than bar the remedy. The Court found that the effect of the words of Article 16 in the light of Financial Services Compensation Scheme Limited v Larnell (Insurances) Limited (in liquidation) [2006] QB 808 (which considered the similarly-worded section 14B of the Limitation Act 1980) was to bar the remedy – unless there was an international consensus upon the understanding of the provision. The Court looked at the French text and concluded that the natural meaning of the French words was to bar the remedy. This understanding was also consistent with language (‘Verjaehrungsfrist’) used in the German Commercial Code. Accordingly Article 16 operated to bar the remedy and not extinguish the cause of action and therefore SWSHA’s contribution claim survived. In reaching their conclusion on Articles 14 and 16 the Court of Appeal also looked at section 5(1) and 5(2) of the Carriage by Air Act 1961 which incorporates the Warsaw and Montreal Conventions into UK law. Of note is its comment that section 5(1) provides a time limit for actions against carrier’s servants or agents, which actions are not themselves within the scope of the Warsaw Convention. John Ross QC and Ian Miller of 1 Chancery Lane acted for the successful appellant.

Employer not liable for employee killed in air disaster

Yesterday, Mr Justice Coulson delivered an extensive judgment in the case of Cassley and Others v GMP Securities Europe LLP & Sundance Resources Limited [2015] EWHC 722 (QB), in which he dismissed the claim for damages brought by the estate of the Deceased (James Cassley) against his employer (GMP) and its client (Sundance), an Australian mining company, who chartered the ill-fated flight. This case was heard only weeks after the decision in Dusek v Stormharbour Securities LLP [2015] EWHC 37 (QB) in which an employer was found to be liable for the death of its employee on facts that were superficially similar to the present. The judgment is of significance to the developing field of employer liability in negligence for death of and/or injuries caused by third party carriers to its staff when engaged in overseas travel. In particular, the judgment provides guidance as to the standards of care that are expected, and perhaps more significantly not to be expected, from employers. GMP were successfully defended by John Ross QC and Kiril Waite instructed by Berrymans Lace Mawer LLP. In 2010, Sundance had approached GMP, who were the London division of a Canadian investment bank, with a view to retaining their services in raising capital for its mining project in Nabeba, Democratic Republic of Congo. The Deceased was a corporate finance executive employed by GMP. He was invited to join Sundance’s board of directors on a private charter flight from Yaoundé, Cameroon to an airstrip used by the mine project in the Congo. Tragically, the flight never reached its destination. The aircraft struck the side of a mountain ridge some 70km short of the airstrip and all aboard were killed. The claim against GMP was brought both for breach of statutory duty and in negligence at common law, based on the non-delegable duties owed by an employer to its employee. The central allegation in the case was that GMP made no risk assessment and no enquiries into the air carrier chartered for the flight. It was asserted that, had they done so, the results of those enquiries would have led them to conclude that it was not safe for the Deceased to have boarded the flight to the Congo. Moreover it was contended that the risk assessment for this one-off trip ought to have been undertaken by an aviation consultant or auditor who also would have known what enquiries to make.   On the undisputed facts, there had been a last-minute change in the air carrier for the flight to the Congo, which GMP did not know nor could reasonably have been expected to know. Accordingly any risk assessment or enquiries made would have been in respect of the original carrier. The factual matrix was complicated by the fact that prior to the Deceased boarding the flight, Sundance required that GMP sign a confidentiality agreement which included a clause that purported to require that it would indemnify Sundance for any injury or death caused to the Deceased. That agreement was never properly executed and not therefore binding. In closing the Claimants sought to advance a new case on causation based on this agreement, namely that no reasonable employer, who had been asked to sign such an agreement, would have permitted its employee to board the plane. Coulson J found that whilst GMP was in breach of its own internal health and safety policy and had failed to make any enquiries about the flight with Sundance, who were the flight charterer, these failings did not amount to an operative breach of duty. He rejected the contention that a company such as GMP ought to have instructed an aviation consultant from the outset. In his judgment Coulson J gives consideration to the types of enquiries that a reasonable employer should make, such as consulting the FCO website. However on the facts of this case, those enquiries would have made no difference to the outcome. Ultimately the claim against GMP failed on causation. There was no evidence before the court that the original air carrier, which GMP had expected would be used, was anything but safe. Even assuming that GMP had found out about the last minute change in carrier, the results from any enquiries that it could reasonably have been expected to make would have led it to reach the conclusion that the substitute air carrier was a safe carrier choice for this flight. The Claimant's new case on causation based on the confidentiality agreement was also rejected by Coulson J. It was a complete non-sequitur for an employer faced with such a document to simply deny its employee entry on board the flight.  The claim against Sundance also failed on the ground that, although Sundance had assumed a duty of care to the Deceased, it had undertaken reasonable enquiries into the suitability of the substitute carrier it selected for the index flight. Claims against employers whose staff are injured or killed in aviation disasters have become something of a burgeoning area in the arena of employer’s liability. This judgment will provide valuable guidance to those involved in this expanding field of litigation.  

A Head for Heights

  “… I was out in the garden with my stepladder today. Not my real ladder. I don't get on with my real ladder …” I was reminded of this old one liner when reading the latest instalment of the government’s Red Tape Challenge This is the revised guidance issued by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on working at height. This is now much simpler and sets out in clear terms what the law requires and the nature of an individual's responsibilities. It should be part of every personal injury lawyer’s tool kit. The new guidance is available free online: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg401.pdf More than 1 million British businesses and 10 million workers are estimated to carry out jobs involving some form of working at height every year. The Work at Height Regulations (WAHR) 2005 (SI 2005/735) set out the law as it applies in Great Britain. These regulations have not changed. However key changes to HSE guidance include: Simple advice about the dos and don'ts of working at height. The dispelling of some of the persistent myths about health and safety law (Example – “I am working at height if I’m walking up and down a staircase at work. No, you are not. Work at height does not include walking up and down a permanent staircase in a building”). Targeted advice to help businesses in different sectors manage serious risks sensibly and proportionately. Helping workers to be clearer about their own responsibilities for working safely. The new guidance was produced with the support of various bodies including the British Retail Consortium, and the trade unions. It is also timely. Falls remain one of the biggest causes of serious workplace injury with more than 40 people killed and 4,000 others suffering major injuries every year. For lawyers, the guidance sets out clearly and informatively what employers need to do to protect their employees when they are working at height whilst at the same time making clear what can reasonably expected of employees to take responsibilities for their own safely. The emphasis is less on formal qualifications and more on competence. This means having the necessary skills, knowledge and experience for the work being carried out. Hardly new advice but a valuable reminder nonetheless!  

Scuppered by the Athens Convention

The Athens Convention has long been a trap for the unwary claimant who either doesn’t appreciate that accidents at sea are governed by the Convention or that there is currently a 2 year limitation period. Most of the reported cases on the Convention deal with the consequences of one or both of these mistakes. However the judgment in the case of Feest v South West Strategic Health Authority [2014] EWHC 177 (QB) (handed down today) now poses a trap for defendants wanting to bring contribution proceedings. Dr Feest was injured as a passenger on a 9 metre RIB (rigid inflatable boat) in the Bristol Channel. She was on secondment from the Health Authority and on a corporate team building exercise being run by Bay Island Voyages when she fractured her spine. Dr Feest’s claim against the Health Authority (as her employer) was issued just before expiry of the 3 year time limit. The Health Authority brought a Part 20 claim against Bay Island Voyages. This was struck out by a district judge on the grounds that the time limit under the Convention is 2 years. The Health Authority appealed. The appeal hinged on the distinction between a cause of action being time barred and a cause of action being extinguished. In common law jurisdictions for the most part when time expires, it acts as a bar to the remedy. In civil jurisdictions it said to extinguish the cause of action altogether. The significance of this is that a right of contribution under the Contribution Act is only available where the cause of action has not been extinguished. Hence the appeal was concerned with whether the limitation period under Article 16 of the Convention barred the remedy or whether it extinguished the right to sue. HHJ Havelock-Allan QC found on appeal that, although Article 16 uses the language of an action being ‘time-barred’ after a period of 2 years, it extinguished the cause of action. Albeit that the Convention has been incorporated into domestic law and modified for domestic voyages, it must be ‘construed on broad principles of general acceptation’. The judge found that if he was ignorant of the English rules he would interpret Article 16 as extinguishing the right to sue. Interestingly the Montreal Convention actually uses the words ‘the right to damages shall be extinguished’ but the Carriage by Air Act 1961 actually includes a saving provision for contribution proceedings. The Merchant Shipping Act 1996 has no equivalent – arguably because the legislators interpreted the Athens Convention as a time-bar. Either way, in the unlikely event that a Claimant’s claim is issued within 2 years of an accident, Defendants will need to act swiftly to bring contribution claims within the same 2 year time period. (The author, Ian Miller, was counsel for the Health Authority and was led by John Ross QC)

“Safe sex” – Part 3

Sex activity is “in every sense a personal choice”.   Ordinarily this truism might not find its way into legal submissions and certainly not submissions by the Solicitor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia. However, ordinarily injuries at work do not arise from a “vigorous” sex session in a motel bedroom.   Regular readers will recall the story so far in relation to this unfortunate “on the job” injury which raises important questions for personal injury and employment lawyers in the UK about the types of activities which can properly be said to arise out of or in the course of employment.    The respondent, a female public servant sued the Australian federal government after being injured while having sex on a work trip in a motel bedroom. The respondent’s partner’s evidence was that they were “going hard” when a glass light fitting came away from the wall above the bed striking her in the face and causing both physical and psychological injuries.   The appellant claimed compensation because her injuries were caused “during the course of her employment” as she had been instructed to travel to and spend the night in a motel in a small town in New South Wales ahead of a departmental meeting early the next day.   The respondent, Comcare, the Australian government's workplace safety body, rejected the claim on the grounds that sexual activity “was not an ordinary incident of an overnight stay like showering, sleeping or eating”. That decision was upheld by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.   Nicholas J. allowed the appellant’s appeal - see PVYW v Comcare (No 2) [2012] FCA 395. Comcare appealed to the full court of the Federal Court of Australia (FCA) which dismissed its appeal – see Comcare v PVYW [2012] FCAFC 181.   In particular, the FCA rejected Comcare’s submission that an injured employee must show both that the injury occurred at a place where he or she was induced or encouraged by the employer to be and that the activity from which the injury arose was induced or encouraged by the employer or was implicitly accepted. It held that the potential conditions for liability were not conjunctive in the sense that an activity test should be super-imposed on a place test. There was no combined or two-stage test. There was a single test which may be satisfied in either one of two ways.   Comcare appealed to the High Court of Australia which on 30 October 2013 by a majority of 4-2 allowed the appeal and rejected the respondent’s claim for compensation – see Comcare v PVYW [2013] HCA 41.   The judgment of the majority was given by Chief Justice French AC. The essential enquiry in each case was “how was the injury brought about?” Sometimes the injury will have occurred at and by reference to the place where the employee was. Usually, however, it will have occurred while the employee was engaged in an activity.   The majority held at [38] that “when an activity was engaged in at the time of injury, the question is: did the employer induce or encourage the employee to engage in that activity?  When injury occurs at and by reference to a place, the question is: did the employer induce or encourage the employee to be there? If the answer to the relevant question is affirmative, then the injury will have occurred in the course of employment”.    It follows that where an activity was engaged in at the time of the injury, the relevant question is not whether the employer induced or encouraged the employee to be at the place where the injury ocurred because such inducement or encouragement is not relevant to the circumstances of the injury.   Put another way, an employer is not liable for an injury which occurs when an employee undertakes a particular activity if the employer has not in any way encouraged the employee to undertake that activity but has merely required the employee to be present at the place where the activity is undertaken.   Two justices dissented. Bell J. held at [106] that “consideration of the connection between the circumstances of the injury and the employment relation would be to add complexity at the cost of certainty and consistency”. Gageler J. agreed holding at [159] that “The particular activity in which the respondent was engaged at the time she was injured does not enter into the analysis”.     The High Court’s decision means that in Australia an employer will not become, in reality, an insurer for an employee in respect of any activity carried out at a place which the employee has been induced or encouraged by the employer to be. It also provides useful guidance to UK lawyers who may be called upon to deal with unusual work place related injuries.   The decision also restores certainty and structure to the law of employers' liability in Australia – something which was sadly lacking in the motel light fitting in question!