Contributory negligence – apportioning blame can make a big difference to compensation claims
The Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945 provides for apportionment of responsibility for loss between a personal injury claimant and defendant if both have contributed to the damage – and when it is proved that the claimant’s own negligence contributed to the damage or loss, a defendant is often required to pay a significantly-reduced sum in compensation.
Contributory negligence defences are common in personal injury claims. Although their success in individual cases is not always easy to predict, they are especially common in road traffic accidents and, to a lesser extent, accidents at work – and the degree to which a claimant’s negligence is deemed to have contributed to a loss can have a big impact on the damages received by the injured party.
In the case of Casson .v. Spotmix Ltd the claimant’s compensation was reduced by 10 per cent, a judgement against which he successfully appealed. While at work, Mr Casson was cleaning a metal surface near moving parts when his glove was caught between rollers causing his hand to become trapped in a piece of machinery. Although Mr Casson’s employer was found to be in breach of duty for failing to provide adequate training for him, the judge concluded he should also bear some responsibility for causing the accident by moving his hand too close to the machinery.
However, responsibility for a breach of duty lies with the employer, whether the employee has been careless or not, and actions cited as contributory negligence by an employer are often more accurately the result of inattention or oversight and as such do not result in reduced compensation.
Under the law, momentary inadvertence does not amount to contributory negligence, and accordingly Mr Casson’s appeal was successful on the grounds that it is possible for an injured worker to have been careless without being responsible for the accident.
When assessing contributory negligence it is essential to consider all the facts in detail and accurately assessing the likely apportionment is challenging for all parties concerned including judges, as the instances of successful appeals would suggest.
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Emma Dryden. Solicitor, personal injury departmentGeneral, George Ide, News, Personal Injury Blog