In the last few months, I’ve discussed two medical negligence cases involving the NHS in Scotland. Since last week, I now have a hat trick with the decision of Lady Wise (sitting in the Court of Session) in respect of Derek Hamilton v Lanarkshire Health Board  CSOH 24.
The facts of the case are pretty straightforward:
In 2013, Mr Hamilton had been playing with his grandson when he swallowed his dental plate. Now, it may seem facetious of me to say this, but Mr Hamilton’s grievance was not directed at his grandson’s high jinks. The issue was with what happened next. He attended the local NHS hospital for treatment and he was informed that he would have to undergo surgery to have the plate removed.
Mr Hamilton duly underwent an operation where Martin Downey, an experienced surgeon, removed said plate via the patient’s oesophagus. Unfortunately, while doing so the surgeon’s actions caused a tear or a perforation in the oesophagus and Mr Hamilton’s condition worsened rapidly. Consequently, the patient spent a total of 45 days in hospital as a result of complications arising from the botched procedure.
Mr Hamilton alleged that Martin Downey, had breached his duty of care to him and that he had carried out a procedure which “all general surgeons know is a catastrophe to be avoided.”
In finding Martin Downey liable for negligence, Lady Wise bluntly observed that:
“Mr Downey departed from usual and normal practice … and acted in a manner that no ordinarily competent general surgeon with colorectal speciality exercising ordinary skill and care would have done.“
Her Ladyship went on to state that:
“I have found that, but for the taking of that easily avoidable risk, the patient’s oesophagus would have remained intact as it was the act of removing the plate that caused the perforation. The pursuer [Mr Hamilton] has therefore established both breach of duty and causation.”
Mr Hamilton will receive £195,000 (plus interest) in compensation from Lanarkshire Health Board in settlement of his claim for personal injury.
A link to Lady Wise’s decision in the matter can be found below:
Email can be a wonderful form of communication. It can also be, quite frankly, something of a curse for many employees and workers. Essentially, you’re never too far away from the work-place and bosses/clients/service users expect to receive an instant reply.
The expectation by bosses and managers that employees and workers should be monitoring their emails (constantly) does tend to be a contributory factor in the rising number of cases of work-related stress. Employers: please note that you have a duty of care to provide a safe working environment and part of this obligation includes monitoring unacceptably high levels of stress in the work-place.
There is a perception (rightly or wrongly) that UK employees suffer from some of the longest working hours in Europe. In 2019, data from the EU’s Eurostat Agency seemed to support this contention but, interestingly, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) took a more sceptical approach by questioning the method of data collection (the old adage about lies, damned lies and statistics springs to mind here).
Links to a BBC article about this issue and the Eurostat figures (and OECD response) can be found below:
UK employees are, of course, entitled to receive a written statement of the main terms and particulars of their employment as per Section 1 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. This statement must contain a provision which addresses the employee’s normal weekly working hours.
Despite Brexit (which did occur on 31 January 2020 – in case you missed it), the UK is still following EU rules until the end of this year … One EU Law with particular relevance to this debate is the Working Time Directive ((2003/88/EC) which was transposed into UK employment law by way of the Working Time Regulations 1998.
In theory, the Directive and the Regulations cap the number of hours that employees (and workers) can work at 48 hours per week (technical point: this figure can be averaged out over a reference period – 17 weeks normally). Crucially, however, UK employees and workers can opt out of the 48 hour maximum by signing a declaration (opt-out) that they wish to do so. If they change their minds, they are entitled to do so by giving the employer a minimum seven days’ notice (or in certain cases – 3 months) of this intention.
The legal rules on working hours are all very well in theory, but what about the culture of organisations which may (at an informal level) promote the idea that long hours spent at work (or just working) are a sure fire way to get ahead in your career?
This is where the influence of email (and other instant messaging services) can be quite insidious (pernicious even?). Employees feel under pressure to deal with this work load at weekends, during holidays and evenings. Parents of young children and carers of elderly relatives, who may have negotiated flexible working arrangements, may be under acute pressure to deal with emails etc when they are outside the work-place. In this way, the work-place becomes like the Eagles’ song, Hotel California (‘You can check out any time you like, But you can never leave!‘).
Interestingly, in some of our ex-EU partner countries, there have been initiatives at both the organisational and legal level to curb the smothering influence of email outside the work-place.
There is a real danger here for employers that, by encouraging employee use of email outside working hours, it may constitute a policy, criterion or practice (PCP) – no matter how informal – which could open themselves up to accusations of indirect discrimination on grounds of sex (women are still the primary carers for children and elderly dependents) and disability (by reason of a person’s association with a disabled person) in terms of Section 19 of the Equality Act 2010.
Furthermore, employees might feel that they are under constant surveillance by the employer because it becomes easier to keep tabs on individuals when they are logging in and out of the company’s IT network. For employers, this could lead to legal challenges from employees who are concerned that the right to privacy and family life as enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights has been violated.
Is there a better way of doing things? Yes, is the short answer.
In 2011, the German multinational car manufacturer, Volkswagen (VW) introduced major changes to its working practices by curbing the use of emails when employees were off duty. This agreement was negotiated by the company and trade union/labour organisations.
In France, in August 2016, they went further and passed the El Khomri Law (named after the French Government Minister for Labour who introduced the proposal). This law gave employees a right to disconnect from email. In one particular case which involved the French arm of the British company, Rentokil, an employee was awarded €60,000 because his right to disconnect from email had been breached.
Links to stories about the changes to VW’s working practices and the French El Khomri Law can be found below:
The debate about the right of employees to disconnect from email – whether this is negotiated via some sort of collective agreement or underpinned by law – now seems to have penetrated the British consciousness. Rebecca Long-Bailey MP, one of the leading contenders for leadership of the British Labour Party has thrown her hat into the ring by backing a trade union campaign to introduce a legal right to disconnect in the UK.
One small problem: the Labour Party lost the last British General Election on 12 December 2019 to the Conservatives and is, therefore, in no position to deliver. Over to you Prime Minister Johnson? (a man fond of the populist gesture).
A link to an article in The Independent about Rebecca Long Bailey’s support for the trade union campaign to introduce a law guaranteeing the right to disconnect can be found below:
At 2300 hours GMT today (or 0000 hours CET if you prefer), the United Kingdom will set a precedent and become an ex-member state of the European Union.
The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 was given Royal Assent on 23 January 2020 and, earlier this week, the European Parliament overwhelmingly ratified the Withdrawal Agreement of November 2019 between the UK and the EU.
Click on the link below for the text of the Agreement:
Job done; back to normal then (whatever that is); the British have taken back control? Well not quite. The Withdrawal Agreement was always going to be the first part of the equation that needed resolving i.e. setting the terms on which the UK would leave the organisation. This has been popularly referred to as the divorce agreement e.g. dealing with the UK’s agreed financial contribution to projects and initiatives to which it had agreed when it was a member state.
The more difficult task will be to figure out what kind of future relationship the EU and the UK will have e.g. about future trading arrangements. UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson wants such an agreement to be finalised by 31 December 2020; leading figures on the EU side (e.g. Ursula Von der Leyen, the Commission President) have been more cautious.
The fact that Brexit Day has finally arrived does not, however, mean that EU Law will cease to have effect in the UK.
We have now entered what is known as the transition period (31 January 2020 until 31 December 2020) and Article 127 of the Withdrawal Agreement explicitly states:
‘Unless otherwise provided in this Agreement, Union law shall be applicable to and in the United Kingdom during the transition period.’ [My emphasis]
In any event, as I have previously observed, EU Law is hardwired into the UK legal domestic systems. Areas such as consumer law; employment law; discrimination and equality law; environmental protection law and family law have all been extensively influenced by European legal principles. Any lawyer with some knowledge of EU Law knows this to be a question of fact. After 47 years of involvement with the European Project, this should be blindingly obvious.
Even this last week, documents published by the European Commission demonstrated that there will be import/export checks between the Island of Ireland and the UK. The Court of Justice of the EU will have the final say in relation to any disputes – despite what Prime Minister Johnson believes or says.
As Lord Denning opined many years ago in Bulmer (HP) Ltd v Bollinger SA  1 Ch 401,  3 WLR 202,  2 All ER 1226:
“But when we come to matters with a European element, the Treaty [of Rome] is like an incoming tide. It flows into the estuaries and up the rivers. It cannot be held back. Parliament has decreed that the Treaty is henceforward to be part of our law. It is equal in force to any statute.”
Or to use another metaphor: perhaps Brexit is a case of building the legal equivalent of the Thames Barrier after the deluge. Too little, too late. Whether the British Government likes it or not, by dint of Brexit, this country is no longer a rule maker and has assumed the status of rule taker.
I have been thinking about the duty of care today – partly because I’m now teaching the Law of Delict (or Tort) to several groups of students and, partly, because of a story which has just been reported in the British media.
The story in question involved the tragic death of 15 year old Nora Anne Quoirin at a holiday resort in Malaysia in 2019. Nora, who had learning difficulties, wandered away from her parents’ accommodation at the resort and her body was found 10 days later in the jungle.
Nora’s parents are now suing the resort for breach of its duty of care to their daughter. They are alleging that the resort owners were negligent in that they failed to take basic safety measures which contributed to their daughter’s death.
Normally, 15 year olds would be expected to appreciate that certain behaviours or conduct on their part could put themselves in harm’s way, but Nora’s parents are arguing that she was particularly vulnerable because of health issues that she had suffered from early childhood. In other words, Nora may not have appreciated the full extent of the risk that she was undertaking when she left her room on that fateful evening.
A link to the story as reported in The Guardian can be found below:
Negligence is harm caused unintentionally and is, by far and away, the most likely type of delictual action that the Scottish courts will have to deal with.
Negligence claims arise because the defender owes what is known as a duty of care to the pursuer and, unfortunately, a breach of this duty occurs and, as a result, the defender suffers loss, injury or damage.
The leading case for negligence claims is Donoghue v Stevenson  UKHL 100 – or the snail in the opaque ginger beer bottle as many generations of law students remember it.
Delicts which are committed unintentionally by the defender resulting in loss, injury or damage to the pursuer are the most common type of civil wrong. In these situations, the defender is said to have been negligent or careless. The law, therefore, imposes a duty on each of us not to cause harm to others. Each of us has interests which the law protects, for example, the right to personal security and the right to enjoy a good reputation.
Donoghue v Stevenson  was not the first case of its kind to be brought before the Scottish courts. That particular honour must go to Mullen v A G Barr & Co Ltd SC 461 where the pursuer attempted to bring a compensation claim in a situation where dead mice were found in ginger beer bottles by the Mullen siblings. Unfortunately, for the Mullen children, the Court of Session dismissed their claim that there was no legal relationship i.e. between them and the ginger beer manufacturer. The importance of the Donoghue decision was that it would overrule the limitations imposed by Mullen and it would establish that a duty of care could arise between the manufacturer (Stevenson) and the ultimate consumer (Mrs Donoghue).
In order to succeed when bringing a negligence claim before the courts, the pursuer must show that the defender owes a duty of care, that the defender was in a position to cause harm and that the defender failed to prevent this foreseeable kind of harm from occurring. Additionally, the pursuer must show that the defender’s breach of duty was the effective (or proximate) cause of the loss or harm suffered by her.
Lord Atkin who gave the leading speech in Donoghue v Stevenson  went to great pains to stress a concept which has since become known as the neighbourhood principle:
The rule that you are to love your neighbour becomes, in law, you must not injure your neighbour; and the lawyer’s question, ‘who is my neighbour?’ receives a restricted reply, ‘you must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour’. Who then, in law, is my neighbour? The answer seems to be persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in my contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions which are called into question.
The defender does not owe a duty of care to the whole wide world, but only to those individuals whom the defender, if he were a reasonable person, would realise that his actions might cause them to suffer loss, injury or damage. Basically, the defender should have realised that his actions or failure to act will result in certain negative consequences being suffered by the pursuer.
This was a point forcefully driven home in the famous decision of Bourhill v Young AC 92, where it was held that a deceased motorcyclist (John Young) owed absolutely no duty of care to a bystander (Mrs Bourhill) who came up Edinburgh’s Colinton Road to view the aftermath of the accident which had been caused by the motorcyclist’s dangerous behaviour. The bystander was not within the contemplation of the motorcyclist. Put simply, she was not someone whom he should have realised might be endangered by his dangerous and negligent actions. In fact, she was in no danger at all from John Young’s actions (until she placed herself in danger by going up the road to gaze upon the aftermath of the accident).
Similarly, this was a point also raised in the more recent case of Weddle v Glasgow City Council  SC EDIN 42 where the pursuer’s claim for damages for psychiatric injuries was dismissed by the All Scotland Sheriff Personal Injury Court. Danielle Weddle was not someone that the driver of the vehicle (which caused death and destruction in Glasgow City Centre in December 2014) should have contemplated might be harmed by his breach of duty i.e. driving the City Council’s bin lorry whilst medically unfit to do so.
In Donoghue v Stevenson , Lord Atkin deliberately drew upon the Christian parable of the Good Samaritan when he formulated the neighbourhood principle. For those unfamiliar with the parable, the Jewish man (who had been attacked and robbed by brigands and left for dead on the road to Jericho) was rescued by a Samaritan (an individual who belonged to a group detested by the Jews for their failure to adhere to the more rigorous rules of Judaism). Before the Samaritan came down the road, a Priest and a Levite stumbled upon the aftermath of the robbery, both decided not to intervene and passed by on the other side of the road.
Lord Diplock, sitting in the House of Lords, famously stated in Dorset Yacht Co. Ltd v Home Office  UKHL 2 that despite the questionable morality of their decision not to help the injured man, the Priest and the Levite would have incurred absolutely no civil liability in English law for their actions and, indeed, in Scotland the position would have been exactly the same.
Lord Atkin’s statement is initially misleading in that he deliberately subverted the language of the Christian Gospels by referring to your neighbour. When Jesus Christ was asked the question by the lawyer (in Luke’s Gospel where the Parable of the Good Samaritan is to be found): ‘Lord, who is my neighbour?’ the fairly daunting reply that the lawyer received is that ‘Everyone is your neighbour’.
To lawyers, however, the above question receives a much more restricted answer. The defender does not owe a duty of care to the whole wide world, but only to those individuals whom the defender, if s/he were a reasonable person, would realise that their actions might cause others to suffer loss, injury or damage. Basically, the defender should have realised that their actions or failure to act will result in certain negative consequences being suffered by the victim.
It will be interesting to see how the legal action brought by Nora Quoirin’s parents against the owners of the Malaysian holiday resort progresses.
The latest Blog title sounds like the name of a quaint English or Scottish public house, but as you might expect it relates to matters legal.
This last week, I have just begun to teach my First Year university students about the law of delict (or tort in other common law jurisdictions) and, as always, I’m looking for relevant cases or stories in the news to illustrate this area.
Obligingly enough, a report of a case came through on Friday 17 January 2020 about a plumber called Darren Conquer who has just been awarded £540,000 in damages by the Outer House of the Court of Session as a result of being the victim of medical negligence (see Darren Conquer v Lothian Health Board  CSOH 8).
As I often say to students the basis of the law of delict is loss or injury wrongfully caused (or as the Romans would have said: damnum injuria datum).
Mr Conquer had injured his arm while playing football and he had, subsequently, undergone medical treatment for this. This is where it gets interesting: the injury had occurred some 16 years ago, but Conquer was not suing the person or persons who had injured him during the football match.
This is, of course, where the issue of volenti non fit injuria arises. When you engage in a physical sport, like football, you must accept the risk of possible injury – on the proviso that all of the players conduct themselves properly and within the rules of the game.
The basis of the pursuer’s claim was that the Health Board, as the employer of the doctors who treated him, was vicariously liable because the injury to the arm been misdiagnosed and, consequently, the proper medical procedures had not been followed. Put simply, the pursuer was arguing that the Health Board was culpable or at fault for his losses.
Had the correct diagnosis been made by the doctors and the correct treatment applied, the pursuer would have made either a full recovery or nearly a full recovery and would have been able to return to his job within 6 months of sustaining the injury. The real issue seems to have centred around the failure by the doctors to carry out surgery on the pursuer at a much earlier and vital stage of his treatment.
In short, the medical negligence was the primary cause (the causa causans) of the pursuer’s losses i.e. his inability to work at his chosen trade of plumber (a skilled trade where he had the potential to make a good living).
The doctors treating Conquer owed a duty of care to him and they had been negligent in the manner of both the diagnosis of the severity of the injury and the treatment which followed (or didn’t follow perhaps more accurately).
A link to the opinion of Lady Carmichael in the Outer House can be found below:
For another recent case on medical negligence, please see the Opinion of Lord Pentland in George Andrews v Greater Glasgow Health Board  CSOH 31.
In the above case, the pursuer, the partner of a woman who died as a result of medical negligence, was successful in his claim for damages.
Lord Pentland noted:
“Since I have found that (a) Dr Izzath failed to advise the deceased that she should be admitted; (b) that his failure to give her that advice was negligent; and (c) that the deceased would have accepted the advice had it been given, I need not make any separate finding as to the deceased’s mental state.”
His Lordship went on to observe that:
“I would merely reiterate that I am in no doubt that if Dr Izzath had advised the deceased that she required to be admitted to hospital, she would have accepted his advice.”
A link to Lord Pentland’s Opinion can be found below:
You get on the plane for a routine flight between Palma de Mallorca to Vienna and, next thing, you’re thinking about instructing lawyers to pursue a personal injury claim on your daughter’s behalf.
Like billions of air travellers before him, HM probably had no idea when asked by the flight attendant whether he wanted a coffee that it would lead to legal action before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) (see Case C532/18 Niki Luftfahrt).
When we think of accidents involving airlines, we often fear the worst consequences, but what about a coffee cup which spills over and scalds a 6 year old child?
This is precisely what happened on the flight from Palma to Vienna. The coffee had been served to the child’s father (HM) and placed on his folding table. For unknown reasons, the cup tipped over and injury occurred to the child (GN).
The young girl then sought compensation for her injuries from the Austrian airline Niki Luftfahrt GmbH (which had subsequently gone into liquidation), so father took action (on her behalf) against the administrator of the airline (ZU).
The question which then arose was whether such an incident was within the meaning of the definition of ‘accident’ which is to be found within the international agreement known as the Montreal Convention. International Conventions are entered into by States to lay down common legal principles and thus avoid the (serious) problem of competing legal jurisdictions e.g. between France and the United States of America. The Montreal Convention has been incorporated into EU Law since 28 June 2004.
The Supreme Court of Austria referred the matter to the CJEU for clarification under the preliminary ruling procedure in terms of Article 267 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).
The CJEU noted that the liability of airlines for personal injuries under the Montreal Convention is strict (see paragraph 36 of the judgement). The Court made two other observations (at paragraphs 33 and 34 of its judgement):
‘In the present case, it is apparent from the wording of Article 17(1) of the Montreal Convention that, in order to engage the liability of the carrier, the event causing the death or bodily injury of the passenger must be classified as an ‘accident’ and that accident must take place on board the aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking. …
… Since the concept of ‘accident’ is not defined anywhere in the Montreal Convention, reference must be made to the ordinary meaning of that concept in its context, in the light of the object and purpose of that convention.’
So was the incident which occurred on the flight from Palma to Vienna an ‘accident’ within the meaning of the Convention?
The answer to this question was an emphatic yes from the CJEU. According to the Court, ‘the ordinary meaning given to the concept of ‘accident’ is that of an unforeseen, harmful and involuntary event.’
As the CJEU stated:
‘… the concept of ‘accident’ … covers all situations occurring on board an aircraft in which an object used when serving passengers has caused bodily injury to a passenger, without it being necessary to examine whether those situations stem from a hazard typically associated with aviation.’
Airlines can always escape liability if they can show that the injury was caused by the acts or omissions of the passenger, but in this case this was not an option.
A link to a press release summarising the details of the Court’s judgement can be found below:
Throughout the ages, God tends to be blamed for a lot of unfortunate events (it isn’t just a late 20th/early 21st Century phenomenon).
In the Scots law of delict (and in the English law of tort), there is a potential defence to an action for negligence known as damnum fatale or an act of God. The essence of this defence so the defender (or respondent) asserts is that s/he could not prevented harm from occurring to the victim because it was a completely unforeseeable event.
When discussing this defence, the standard case in Scotland to which many commentators refer is Caledonian Railway Co v Greenock Corporation (1917). In this case, the House of Lords was far from impressed by the Greenock Corporation’s argument that freakishly heavy rainfall during summer should be treated as an unforeseeable occurrence – in other words, an act of God. The Corporation had diverted the course of a local burn (stream) in order to fill a swimming pool. Heavy rainfall occurred and the water from the pool overflowed and flooded neighbouring property which belong to the Caledonian Railway. The Greenock Corporation was found liable to the Railway for the damage caused. The amount of rainfall might be unusual for other places in Scotland, but certainly not for Greenock. Knowing Greenock well, I can attest to the amount of rain that falls there on a regular basis and I think an argument could easily be made to confer upon it the dubious accolade of the wettest town in Scotland.
The defence of damnum fatale arose recently (and briefly) in a case before Lord Glennie in the Outer House of the Court of Session (see Allen Woodhouse v Lochs and Glens (Transport) Ltd  CSOH 105).
I will say, of course, from the outset that Lord Glennie sensibly rejected any possible part that this defence might have to play in proceedings:
‘But I am left with this concern. My finding on the evidence is that the weather conditions were unpleasant and the wind was strong – but there was nothing exceptional about the conditions, winds of that strength were foreseeable, and extreme turbulence, being a feature of the topography of that area, could also be foreseen. For that reason I would have rejected the defence of damnum fatale, had it been necessary to consider it.’
The facts of the case were as follows:
Mr Woodhouse was a tourist, who was on a 7 day Ceilidh Spring Break, staying at the Loch Awe Hotel. As part of the package, the defenders (Lochs and Glens (Transport)) took the tourist party on day trips using one of its buses. On one of the day trips, Mr Woodhouse and his fellow tourists had stopped near the top of the well known beauty spot, the Rest and Be Thankful. The weather was particularly foul that day and, understandably, most of the tourists did not take the opportunity to leave the bus and go out to the viewpoint.
This part of the excursion was all too brief and the bus driver decided to leave the viewpoint. Shortly after the bus had pulled away, the driver became aware that the passenger door was slightly open and she stopped the bus to close it. When this was done, she started the bus and headed down the Rest and Be Thankful on the Inveraray side. By this point, the force of the wind had increased dramatically and the bus was effectively heading directly into the path of a violent gale. To cut a long story short, the driver took (what she believed were) reasonable precautions and moderated her speed and driving technique. Nevertheless, despite these measures, the bus eventually went off the road due to a combination of unfortunate events i.e. the uneven slope just above Loch Restil; the lack of a safety barrier at the time of the accident; the high winds and the build up of mud on the vehicle’s wheels as it attempted to navigate the grass verge which affected the braking system.
As a result of the bus leaving the road, Mr Woodhouse suffered injuries and he brought an action for compensation (£15,000) against Lochs and Glens (Transport) for the alleged negligence of its employee. Although Mr Woodhouse’s claim was initially lodged in the Sheriff Court, it was later transferred to the Court of Session in recognition of the importance of some of the issues and consequences which it raised (there were 51 other passengers on the bus that day).
Due to the fact that control of the situation was the responsibility of the defenders and its driver, the burden of proof switched to the defenders to demonstrate that they were not liable in negligence to Mr Woodhouse. The merits of his claim would, therefore, stand or fall on the basis of Mr Woodhouse’s reliance on the legal principle known as the facts speak for themselves (res ipsa loquitur).
In dismissing Mr Woodhouse’s claim for damages, Lord Glennie noted that:
‘I am persuaded on the evidence that the defenders have discharged the burden on them of proving that the accident happened without their negligence. The evidence that the coach was well maintained and did not suffer from any relevant pre-existing defect was not challenged; indeed it was a matter of agreement in the Joint Minute lodged in process by the parties. The only challenge, the only suggestion of fault advanced by the pursuer, was in relation to the actions of the driver.’
Critically, his Lordship went on to say that, although the bus driver may have misjudged the actual speed at which she was driving the vehicle, she had not been driving dangerously.
Taken together, all of these factors demonstrated that neither the defenders nor the driver were liable in negligence to Mr Woodhouse.
A link to Lord Glennie’s Opinion can be found below:
On Friday 21 February 2020, two women were injured in a Glasgow street when a shop sign was dislodged in high winds and landed on them. Were the high winds an act of God or did the store fail to safeguard against this type of incident? Read on …
It would seem that Whirlpool, the domestic appliance manufacturer of Creda, Hotpoint, Indesit and Proline tumble dryers does not have its sorrows to seek as product defects (which could endanger the safety of the public) continue to plague the brand. The appliances have been nicknamed the ‘killer dryers’ because they may represent a fire risk.
Manufacturers of products have a duty of care to ensure that their products are free from defects which could cause damage to property or death or personal injury.
Last week, the company admitted that nearly half a million of its appliances could have a serious manufacturing defect which could cause property damage and, more seriously, death or personal injury.
Whirlpool’s (civil) liability to victims is said to be strict in terms of a number of Acts of Parliament:
Sale of Goods Act 1979
Consumer Protection Act 1987
Consumer Rights Act 2015
There is also the issue of possible criminal liability for dangerous and defective products in terms of the Consumer Protection Act 1987.
Potentially, Whirlpool could be liable to a large group of people:
Business customers (retailers and traders) who purchased products from Whirlpool directly in terms of the Sale of Goods Act 1979; and
The ultimate consumer of the products i.e. any one who does not have a contract of sale with the retailer or manufacturer, but who may suffer property damage, injury or death as a result of exposure to the dangerous product (see Donoghue v Stevenson UKHL100) in terms of the Consumer Protection Act 1987.
Those consumers who purchased dangerous item(s) directly from a retailer will, of course, have a contract of sale in terms of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and they can take legal action against the retailer. The retailer can then pursue a claim against the manufacturer or supplier from whom they obtained the goods.
An excellent link to an article about the problems facing Whirlpool appliances can be found below by clicking on the link to the Which? website:
The previous Blog discussed claims for psychiatric injuries in relation to the tragedy in Glasgow, but another legal action at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, stemming from these events, has just been determined this very week.
The case in question is Glasgow City Councilv First Glasgow (No 1) Ltd  CSOH 101.
It will be recalled that it was Harry Clarke, the driver of the bin lorry or refuse collection truck, who had suffered a blackout while driving due to an undisclosed medical condition. He had lost control of the vehicle and this had caused the accident which resulted in the deaths of 6 people and injuries to 15 more in Glasgow City Centre.
Glasgow City Council, Clarke’s employer, was vicariously liable for his negligence. This is now a question of fact. What was in dispute, however, was whether Clarke’s former employer (First Glasgow), a bus company where he was employed as a driver, should also bear liability for his role in the tragedy?
Why – you may well ask?
As Lord Ericht, the trial judge, noted the argument advanced by Glasgow City Council amounted to the following:
‘The sole ground on which this case is pled is a narrow one. The case is pled solely on the basis of section 3 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1940.’
Section 3 of the above Act addresses a situation where two defenders or more could be held jointly and severally liable for wrongful or negligent acts or omissions.
Glasgow City Council had already paid out substantial damages to the families of the deceased and to those who suffered injury on 22 December 2014 (£860,000 together with expenses of £43,714.40). The Council was now seeking to recover these sums in ‘their entirety’ from Clarke’s former employer.
There two issues in the case were as follows:
1. Whether it is necessary for a claim under the 1940 Act that both the pursuers and defenders be under a duty of care to the injured person; and
2. If the answer to the first issue is yes, did the defenders in this case have a duty of care to the injured person?
Essentially, the Council’s argument rested on First Glasgow’s knowledge of Clarke’s medical condition and the potential dangers that this represented if he continued to drive for a living.
Reference was made by the Council to a previous incident that occurred in April 2010:
“On 7 April 2010, Clarke lost consciousness whilst driving a bus when engaged in the course of his employment with the defenders [First Glasgow]. The type of episode from which he suffered was similar to that which was ultimately suffered by him during the events [of 22 December 2014]. The incident was investigated by the defenders and it was known by them that he could present a risk to passengers and others should there be a repetition of the event. In the course of the investigation by the defenders, Clarke changed his story about where and how he had suffered the fainting episode. Any reasonable investigation would have revealed that he was being dishonest to those trying to assess his ability to drive.”
In fact, the Council had sought a reference about Clarke from First Glasgow as to his suitability for employment. It was claimed by the Council that the reference request would almost certainly have asked for information about Clarke’s general health and any issues in this regard which would have impaired his ability to carry out driving duties. Unfortunately, the reference was not produced by the Council on the grounds that it had either been lost or misplaced.
The Council pointed out in its submissions to the Court of Session that First Bus should have informed it (as Clarke’s new employer) about the danger he represented if he was given a driving job. Had the full extent of Clarke’s health problems been notified to the Council, he would not have been allowed to continue in his employment as a driver. The Council would have then (possibly) sought to redeploy him in a non-driving role.
In this sense, the Council was attempting to rely upon the principle of foreseeability alone as creating the basis for a duty care owed to it by First Glasgow. Lord Ericht expressly rejected this reasoning by focusing on the tripartite test laid down by Lord Bridge in Caparo Industries PLC v Dickman  UKHL 2 (a judgement of the House of Lords) which emphasised the following factors which need to be present in order to establish a duty of care:
fairness, justice and reasonableness.
Significantly, Lord Ericht highlighted the fact that First Glasgow had issued the reference about Clarke to Glasgow City Council. It was, therefore, issued for the new employer’s benefit alone. It was not meant to benefit members of the public (a very broad class of people) and, critically, the public was completely unaware of the existence of said reference and could not in any way be said to have relied upon it.
In arriving at his decision, Lord Ericht made the following statement:
“In order to succeed in its claim under section 3, the pursuers will have to establish that the defenders were directly liable to the injured party in negligence in respect of a reference given by the defenders to the pursuers. The issue which came before me for debate was whether as a matter of law, in the circumstances of this case, a previous employer who gives a reference to a new employer can be liable in negligence to a third party who is injured by the employee during the course of his new employment.”
His Lordship went on to say:
“In my opinion for the 1940 Act to apply both parties must be liable to the injured person. Section 3(2) operates in situations where both A and B are liable to C. It does not operate where only A is liable to C, but B is liable to A.”
Reference was also made by Lord Ericht to the decision of the House of Lords in Spring v Guardian Royal Assurance PLC  UKHL 7 where the claimant, an ex-employee of Guardian Royal Assurance, was prevented from gaining new employment in the insurance industry because Guardian Royal provided a prospective employer of the claimant with a negligent employment reference. The reference claimed that the claimant had committed fraud while he had been working for Guardian Royal. This was not true, the claimant had merely been incompetent in carrying out his duties for Guardian Royal.
Held: by the House of Lords that Guardian Royal owed the claimant a duty of care and it was foreseeable that he would suffer harm as a result of the negligent reference. Clearly, the claimant and Guardian Royal had a special relationship – that of employer and employee.
To the disappointment of Glasgow City Council, Lord Ericht chose to distinguish Spring from the present case before him:
“The case of Spring v Guardian Assurance established that an employer giving an employment reference owes to the employee who is the subject of the reference a duty of care and would be liable to the employee in negligence if he failed to do so and the employee suffered economic damage. In the present case, the court is being asked to go further and find that there is a duty of care to a third party who is neither the employee nor the recipient of the reference. This is an exercise which must be approached with great care.”
Interestingly, one of the issues raised by Counsel for First Glasgow was that it was under no duty to disclose the incident of 7 April 2010 to the Council (when Clarke fainted while driving) because doctors who had examined him stated that it was extremely unlikely to happen again.
In this respect, First Glasgow did not owe a duty of care to Clarke’s victims. Therefore, the provisions of Section 3 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1940 did not apply to this situation and the Council’s claim for damages from First Glasgow was dismissed.
A link to Lord Ericht’s Opinion in the Outer House of the Court of Session can be found below: