A recent decision from the All Scotland Personal Injury Court in Edinburgh demonstrates the importance of reasonable foreseeability actions for damages.
In Chris King v Common Thread Limited (2019) SC Edin 75 the pursuer suffered an injury at work to his thumb when he got it trapped between a door and a door frame.
The pursuer was employed as a therapeutic support worker in a residential care unit for young people. While on shift at the unit, the pursuer went to leave a resident's bedroom. The pursuer used his right hand to open the door of the room and pulled the door closed with his left hand. As the pursuer was pulling the door closed with his left hand, the resident kicked the inside of the door causing it to slam closed. This caused the pursuer's left thumb to be trapped between the door and the door frame. The pursuer raised an action for damages against his employers alleging that they had failed to take reasonable care for safety.
The case proceeded to Proof before Sheriff Fyfe in ASPIC in summer 2019 restricted to the issue of liability only. Quantum had been agreed beforehand at £25,000.
Evidence was led during the Proof that the door in question was not a fire door. It was fitted with a door closer mechanism. During a fire safety audit by the Fire and Rescue Service several months before the pursuer's accident it was recommended that the door should be replaced with a fire safety door with a fully self closing mechanism. Arguments were made by the pursuer that the door was not suitable and, if had been fitted with a self closing mechanism at the time, the accident would not have happened.
Ultimately, however, Sheriff Fyfe's reached the decision that the pursuer had failed to establish any fault or negligence by his employers. This was because what happened to the pursuer was not reasonably foreseeable. The resident had no history of violent behaviour. There was no reason or obligation upon the employer to foresee that the resident would act physically at the material time and act as they did in kicking the door shut. The accident was caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond the employers' control, namely the resident's unexpected act of kicking the door shut. The pursuer's claim against his employer accordingly failed.
Whilst this decision is fact specific to this particular case, this decision demonstrates that reasonable foreseeability remains an important consideration when considering liability in personal injury claims.
For an employee's claim to succeed, the injury sustained - and the cause of that injury - must be reasonably foreseeable. This is before any consideration is given to whether there has been any breach of the duty by the employer. If an accident is not reasonably foreseeable, the pursuer's claim fails at the first hurdle. This decision is a welcome reminder for employers and other defenders of this.
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