In an important ruling for employers and the insurance industry, a sole director and shareholder who sued his own company after his finger was sliced off in a workplace accident has had his compensation hopes dashed. The Court of Appeal ruled that the claimant’s own ‘cavalier’ attitude to his health and safety obligations meant that he was entirely responsible for his own misfortune.
The claimant lost his left ring finger due to a fault in a hydraulic ramp at a garage that was owned by a company of which he was sole director and shareholder. He sued the company for alleged breach of work equipment regulations but his damages claim was resisted by the company’s insurers, Aviva Insurance Limited.
The claim was dismissed at first instance on the basis that, although the company bore primary responsibility for the accident, there had been 100% contributory negligence on the part of the claimant in that it was his responsibility alone to ensure that health and safety rules were observed at the garage.
In dismissing the claimant’s appeal, the court noted that the approach to health and safety at the garage had been ‘reactive, rather than proactive’; no system of risk assessments was in place and there were no regular inspections of the machinery which turned out to be faulty. The facts as found revealed a failure on the claimant’s part ‘to have regard to one of the most important duties a director has to perform, to look after the health and safety of the company employees’. There was no good reason for the court to come to the aid of a director who, like the claimant, had ‘made no effort in respect of the company’s health and safety duties’.
In upholding a respondent’s notice, the court went further and ruled that a finding of primary liability should not have been made against the company. That was on the basis that its breach of statutory duty had been wholly caused by and was co-extensive with the claimant’s own failings.