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Work accidents – can my employer really be held at fault for a negligent act of my work colleague?

Accidents at work can happen in a variety of situations, whether it be working on a shop floor and you slip or trip, working in a warehouse and you are injured lifting a box or working in a factory and you are injured by a faulty piece of machinery or equipment.

You might think its clear cut when you consider your employer should be held at fault for an accident you have suffered. What happens, however, in a situation where a colleague for example is driving a forklift truck and drives into you or, a colleague is assisting you with lifting an object and he/she drops it on you and you sustain injury? Can you really pursue a claim against your employer in negligence?

There is a possibility that your employer can be held to be vicariously liable for the act of that employee who you feel has caused your injury.

The Test:

In order to pursue a successful case two points need to be established:

  1. You need to be able to show that the person who caused your accident was an employee and therefore under the control of your employer.
  2. You must also be able to show that they were acting in the course of their work when the accident happened.

I have represented a number of clients who have been involved in accidents at work caused by work colleagues. For example, one client was working with a colleague on a task involving an underground cable box and his colleague was using a knife – he cut my client’s hand whilst he was holding a piece of cable.

My client’s employer agreed that they were vicariously liable for the act of the employee who caused the accident because it happened during the course of employment and it was a task in which the employer had instructed him to undertake.

I have also successfully represented a client who was stacking shelves in a warehouse and a colleague reversed a forklift truck into the aisle in which he was working without any sirens or warning and collided into my client resulting in him sustaining a fractured foot. Again my client’s employer admitted that they were vicariously liable for the employee who reversed into my client.

Following the recent case of Cox v Ministry of Justice [2016] vicarious liability now applies to temporary workers and agency staff, unless they are acting as independent contractors operating on their own account.

If you have been involved in an accident at work and you consider this was caused by an action of a colleague or fellow employee, then you need to seek legal advice. Make sure that any accident is reported in accordance with your Staff Handbook. You should also ensure that you give a full account of what has happened and check this before signing any accident book entries or forms.