The Penningtons Manches personal injury team has recently settled a claim for damages against a large energy company whose employee suffered a back injury as a result of a poorly maintained lift in the workplace.
The claimant was using the lift when it came to an abrupt halt between two floors. The sudden jolt caused a jarring motion which transferred through the claimant’s leg and into their lower back. The claimant immediately suffered back pain and nausea but continued until the end of the working day before seeking medical assistance.
He suffered significant pain for a few months after the accident, before it settled to nuisance level, which has remained to date. The claimant required pain relief and had difficulties with household tasks.
Following an investigation, the Penningtons Manches personal injury team submitted a claim to the employer and insurer. Liability was initially disputed on the basis that it was the responsibility of the managing agent for the building. Penningtons Manches pointed out the responsibilities of the employer to the employee and managed to secure an admission of liability. Owing to limitation, it was necessary to issue and serve proceedings but a settlement was negotiated shortly thereafter.
William Broadbent, an associate in the personal injury and clinical negligence team, commented: “This was a clear example of an employer failing to ensure that the equipment used by the employee was safe and adequately maintained. Had the employer taken adequate steps to ensure that the lift was well maintained, the accident would have been avoided and the claimant would not have suffered the back injury which has had such a significant impact on his life.
“Unfortunately, changes to the law which have come into force since this accident will mean that employees such as the claimant in this case, will have a far more difficult time achieving justice against their employer, and will deprive some of the ability to claim altogether.
“The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 has now reversed the burden in claims such as this, and it will be down to the claimant to prove that there has been a negligent act by their employer, rather than the employer being strictly liable. Under the previous regime, a number of health and safety regulations imposed strict liability so, if an employee was injured at work by faulty equipment, for example, a claimant could bring a claim. It would therefore be the defendant’s responsibility to prove that they had taken all reasonable practicable steps to minimise the risk.
“Under the new regime, it will be necessary for a claimant to show a particular negligent act on the part of their employer in order to succeed in a claim, which imposes a much higher burden on the claimant. The changes have been brought in to tackle the “compensation culture” but it is more likely that it will result in employees injured during the course of their employment being left without any remedy.”