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Cooper v Carillion Plc, Court of Appeal, 2 December 2003

10 December 2003
The issues

Contributory Negligence – Whole – Building Site – Foreseeability

The facts

The Claimant was employed on the Defendant’s building site. He was told to pick up and carry a sheet of plywood, which he did in front of his body. His Foreman helped him also holding the board in front of his body but walking backwards. The Claimant fell down a hole, which had been covered by the plywood sheet. He was seriously injured. The Judge found for the Claimant but also found the Claimant contributorily negligent to the extent of 10%. The Claimant appealed.

The decision

1. The issue for the Court was whether the Claimant had been negligent and whether he should have foreseen the danger to him.

2. An employee was generally entitled to rely on his employer’s expected compliance with statutory duty.

3. Where there had been a breach of statutory duty, it was important not to take away the employee’s recourse by a finding of contributory negligence. Whilst with hindsight it was possible to say what the employee should have done to protect his safety, that was not in itself enough to establish a finding of contributory negligence.

4. The basis of the Judge’s decision was that the Claimant should have looked under the board before he started to carry it. However that was expecting too much from the Claimant. It raised the question of why he should have looked under the board. There had been no previous incidents of loose boards covering holes and all the evidence had shown that holes were not covered generally without the boards being secured and labelled with a warning. The Judge was wrong to make a finding of contributory negligence.

Appeal allowed.

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