Injured Workers Face Significant Barrier to Justice
New legislation will require injured employees to prove employer’s direct liability
An injury at work can instantly have a huge and long lasting impact on the life of an employee. In addition to the physical and psychological injuries sustained an injured person may find that their future employment prospects are significantly affected.
Now, thanks to changes to an already criticised personal injury claims regime from the Coalition Government, UK workers could face a new and considerable hurdle before being able to recover any compensation from their employer.
As the law currently stands, it imputes strict liability to situations that are considered inherently dangerous. Strict liability is the imposition of liability on a party without the requirement of a finding of fault. The claimant need only prove that the tortious act occurred and that the defendant was responsible.
The rationale behind strict liability, particularly in relation to the workplace is that it discourages an employer from reckless behaviour and dangerous work practices by forcing them to take every reasonable precaution to protect the safety of workers. Since the imposition of strict liability legislation, workplace injuries and deaths have fallen considerably and significant improvements to the safety of working environments have been seen.
Reason Behind New Legislation
Based on recommendations made by Professor Löfstedt, who investigates Occupational Health and Safety on behalf of the Coalition, the new legislation seeks to remove this notion of strict liability. The new legislation will impose a specific requirement upon the injured-party to prove that, on the balance of probabilities, the accident was caused by the negligence of the employer. If this burden is not discharged by the injured person they will fail to recover any compensation.
Impact on Injured Workers
While some workplace injuries are undoubtedly triggered by the worker’s own inattention or lack of care, there are many cases where an employee is injured whilst performing their duties in good faith and in accordance with instructions given to them. A specific example of this could be where a worker attempts to carry an object that should be carried by 2 people. This could be because a colleague is absent or on a break and rather than be unable to perform their duties the worker seeks to move the object on their own and suffers a serious back injury.
In the above example, the removal of strict liability would impact considerably on the worker’s ability to claim compensation and could lead to a potentially life-changing injury and one that leaves the worker both without compensation and with extremely limited future employment prospects.
Advice for Workers
Over 170 people were killed in the workplace during 2012 and over 22,000 were injured; any one of us could be grouped into those counts for 2013 and be facing a whole new lifestyle. In order to pay for that lifestyle and cover the income loss sustained through potential non-employability, it is our right to file for accident at work compensation.
John Spencer, of Spencers Solicitors in Derbyshire, actively blogs about these issues on a regular basis; his outlook on Britain’s general Health and Safety is reassuring:
“The majority now [of employers] accept that they have a duty of care to look after, as far as possible, their employees’ health, safety and welfare while they are at work. For all that the tabloids sometimes assert that this means that it’s impossible to change a light bulb without performing a risk assessment, there’s an undeniable upside: our working environments are, for the most part, safe places to be.”
Although Spencer is concerned about how the new legislation will prevent genuine claimants from acquiring the pay-outs they deserve, he will continue to lead his team of personal injury claims experts towards more vigorous case investigation. The legislation will no doubt make it more difficult to ‘win’ but it will not make it impossible.