Repeatedly we talk about employers owning a duty of care to their employees. This duty is a fundamental part of a personal injury claim; if no duty of care can be established, a successful claim is impossible.
But what does a duty of care entail? And what is the extent of the duty owed by an employer to his or her employees?
The tail of the snail – aka Donoghue v Stevenson
The modern concept of duty of care, and indeed the law of negligence as we know it, came about thanks to a snail found in a bottle of pop.
On a Sunday evening in the summer of 1928, May Donoghue, a shop assistant, met a friend at the Wellmeadow cafe in Paisley, near Glasgow. Ms Donoghue’s friend brought a ginger beer. A decomposing snail was found in the bottom of the bottle; however, because the glass was dark in colour, Ms Donoghue drank most of the liquid before discovering the rancid remains of the creature.
Ms Donoghue later fell ill and was diagnosed with gastroenteritis and shock.
As the law stood in the late 1920s, Ms Donoghue could not sue for breach of contract because her unnamed friend paid for her beverage. Her counsel instead argued that Mr David Stevenson, the manufacturer of the ginger beer, owed all his customers a duty of care and had caused injury through negligence. The law of negligence was in its infancy at the time.
Among other principles, the case established the “neighbour principle. Lord Atkin stated in a now famous legal paragraph:
“You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour. Who, then, in law, is my neighbour? The answer seems to be persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought to have them in [mind] when I am [considering these] acts or omissions.”
In the landmark case of Caparo Industries Plc v Dickman, decided 58 years after Donohue, the House of Lords set out a three-fold test that must be passed for a duty of care to be established.
The court must ask itself:
- was the harm reasonably foreseeable,
- is there a relationship of sufficient proximity between the parties to the case, and;
- is it fair, just and reasonable to impose liability?
The duty an employer owes to an employee
There is no doubt that the employee/employer relationship satisfies the Caparo test. Therefore, an employer needs to take the steps necessary to ensure the health, safety and well-being of their employees . Not only do employers have to abide by health and safety rules and regulations, but they must also comply with common law duty of care requirements.
Employer duty of care requirements can include:
- assessing risks present in the workplace
- mitigating any risks identified as far as possible
- providing adequate training and feedback to employees
- allowing time for employees to rest and relax
- protecting employees from bullying and harassment
- communicating health and safety policies and procedures to all staff members
An employee’s health and safety duty
Employees also have a duty of care with regards to workplace safety. They have a right to refuse to perform tasks that may be in breach of health and safety regulations or that they can see are clearly unsafe.
Claiming compensation for negligence if a personal injury occurs at work
If you suffer a personal injury at work or are struck down by an industrial disease, you may be entitled to claim compensation. As well as establishing a duty of care, you will also have to prove your employer breached the duty owed to you and that breach resulted in your injury or sickness.
The first step to claiming compensation is to contact an experienced personal injury solicitor. They will examine the circumstances surrounding your injury as well as your medical records and advise you if a claim for compensation can be brought.
At Russell Worth Solicitors we specialise in personal injury claims. If you have suffered a workplace injury and would like a free claim assessment, please call us now on 0800 028 2060 or complete our Online Claim Assessment.