26 January, 2022
The Court of Appeal has just handed down a judgement in the case of Chell v Tarmac.
Mr Chell was contracted to work at Tarmac as a fitter. Tensions arose between Mr Chell and fitters employed by Tarmac. One of the fitters decided to play a trick on him, by putting two explosive pellets on a bench close to where he was working. They hit them with a hammer causing a loud explosion next to his right ear. As a result, he suffered noise induced hearing loss and tinnitus. He brought a claim against Tarmac alleging that they were vicariously liable for the actions of the fitter and had failed to take steps to prevent foreseeable risk of injury. His claim failed in the County Court. He took his case to the Court of Appeal. They agreed with the decision.
His claim failed because he was unable to show that the explosive pellets were part of his employers equipment, or part of their work. The fitter was not acting in any form of supervisory capacity and was not working on a task which Mr Chell was engaged in at the time. There was nothing to put Tarmac on notice that there was ill feeling between the two employees. There had been no threats of violence between them and Mr Chell had not asked to be taken off site or had alerted Tarmac as to any sort of tension between them. It was not inherent to the business, effectively this was horseplay and not part of the job.
The situation would've been totally different had there been complaints of issues between the two employees and the complaints had not been taken seriously and nothing had been done about them. Had the two individuals been working together on the same task, things might be different.
Good examples of where an organisation can find itself liable for the actions of another are:
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