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When another employee causes an accident

Over the last week or so I have spoken to a couple of people who have asked what entitlement they have to make a claim when the cause of an accident was not the employer but was another employee.

The situation with regard to employers is clear in so far as their liability in law is concerned.  There is a whole raft of legislation dealing with manual handling risks, protective clothing and equipment, health and safety at work – the list goes on.  In England we probably have one of the most advanced legal systems for protecting employees in the world with legislation and regulations to cover just about every type of employment situation and eventuality.  And running alongside  that legislation is the common law rules on accidents at work which obliges an employer to take “reasonable” care of staff working for them.  This means that if an employer fails to operate within the requirements of the law then they will be liable for any accident and injuries that are caused.  So, for example by allowing you to work on faulty machinery, not providing you with the appropriate equipment or protective clothing to do the job or exposing you to unnecessary or unreasonable risks, puts your employer in breach of their legal obligations.

That situation is relatively straight forward.  But what if an accident was caused not by the employer but by another employee?  Again this situation is covered by the law which provides that in the event of an employee being negligent and causing an accident then it is still the employer who is liable for the accident and the consequential injuries losses.  And this is the case even if the employer had no knowledge of what that employee was doing.  For example if an employee left a guard off a machine even though he had been trained and instructed not to do so and another employee is injured when his hand becomes trapped in the machine, the employer is still liable.  The employer cannot argue that the employer had been properly trained, nor could they argue that fault lies with a supervisor or foreman who were not doing their job properly.  The law is quite clear – if an employee negligently  causes an accident then the employer is liable.  This is called “vicarious liability”.

The only time when an employer would be able to avoid liability is when they can show that at the time the employee causing the accident was acting “outside the course of their employment” which means that they were doing something so far removed from the job they were employed to do that the employer should not be held to blame.  The courts however have taken a fairly liberal view on such cases and it would only be in very extreme cases that it would find that an employer should not be liable.

The reason the law stands as it does goes back to the industrial revolution.  As manufacturing and industry grew the need for legislation to protect employees became essential.  And the law has evolved ever since to ensure that employees injured at work have a right to redress.  And to ensure that an employee who has an accident at work does not find that he/she cannot claim compensation because the employer has insufficient funds, compulsory insurance is required for every employer as a condition of them employing staff.  The vicarious liability of employers for negligent employees is covered within that compulsory insurance so ensuring that claims for injuries and losses in the workplace are covered by insurance which in turn meets the financial cost of such claims.

Until next time

Lorraine

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