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PI and Civil Litigation

Law - practice - procedure

20 APR 2015

West Sussex County Council v Fuller [2015] EWCA Civ 189

West Sussex County Council v Fuller [2015] EWCA Civ 189
Employers Liability – Manual Handling
12 March 2015

 Tomlinson LJ
The claimant was employed part-time by the defendant local authority as an administrative assistant. When delivering post the claimant fell on a staircase and injured her wrist. She brought proceedings against the authority. At first instance the judge found for the claimant but on appeal this was overturned as the judge had misconstrued the defendant’s obligation.

From October 2008 the claimant was required to deliver post to the various departments in the building instead of placing it in pigeon holes as was done previously. The claimant alleged at the time of her fall she was carrying parcels and other items meaning she could not hold onto the handrail. As she walked up the stairs she stated her foot became stuck onto something sticky which caused her to fall forwards and sprain a ligament.

 The first instance judge did not accept the claimant’s account of the accident and held that she had simply misjudged her footing. However the first instance judge stated he felt compelled to find for the claimant as the defendant had not performed a risk assessment and taken reasonable steps to reduce any risk to its lowest level.
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On appeal the court found that the first instance judge had misconstrued liability under Regulation 4 of the 1992 Manual Regulations. Under this regulation liability could only be established on proof of a causal breach of duty. Although there had been no risk assessment by the defendant, the circumstances of the actual accident had not fallen within the ambit of the risk which the defendant had been required to assess since the claimant had simply misjudged her footing when she had happened to be carrying a few items of post. The only method for preventing the claimant’s accident, namely misjudging her footing, was to prevent her from using the staircase. The court concluded this was unrealistic.

 Although the burden is usually on the employer to show why there is a failure to assess risk, this is not the case when there is no causal link between the accident and the risks generated by the operation in question.

Claimants must prove a causal connection between the accident and any breach of duty by their employer – the lack of a risk assessment is not enough by itself to establish liability.

 Joseph Carr and Amy Wedgwood, Anthony Gold Solicitors