Large commercial vehicles account for a high proportion of fatal accidents, particularly in extractive industries like mining. Two recent cases however show the risks associated with more everyday commercial use of lorries. In both cases the employers were successfully prosecuted by HSE.
Negligence causing death
In the first case, involving Arkenfield Stable Hire Limited the employee was killed by a passing car while he was acting as a "banksman" assisting one of the company's lorry drivers with a reversing manoeuvre on a public street. The employer was fined a total of £7,500 and ordered to pay costs of £5,000.
In the second case, against Freight First Ltd the employee was crushed to death by a runaway trailer he was trying to line up in a works vehicle yard. While attempting to couple a trailer to a cab, the trailer and cab started rolling away from him. He then tried to run down the side of the trailer in order to enter the cab. He was found not to have received proper training on how to couple and uncouple HGV trailers. His employer was fined £90,000 and ordered to pay £67,500 in prosecution costs.
Each case was prosecuted under statutory provisions which place a higher duty upon the employer than the common law. The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 had removed the bereaved families' right to rely upon these provisions in support any civil damages claim, but the recent decision of the UK Supreme Court in Kennedy v Cordia (Services) LLP has now improved their prospects. That case determined that in order to comply with the civil duty to take reasonable care at common law employers are now expected to carry out risk assessments to identify, manage and control risks to a safe level. Where they fail to do so, and there is an accident, the court can then find that there has been a negligent failure by the employer. In these cases, the claimant may now be able argue that, if there was a failure to carry out the steps which a proper risk assessment would have revealed, and if they would have been likely to have avoided the accident then the employer may be found liable in damages.