Law Case Study
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This case deals with Matthew, an employee at MedX Ltd, who has recently suffered his first injury at work. Matthew was hit on the head by heavy boxes that were not properly stacked, which fell from the 5th tier of the warehouse’s rack. Another employee using a forklift carelessly stacked these boxes. As a result, Matthew was unconscious due to the hit on his head and woke up in the hospital the next morning. Matthew was not wearing a helmet as required. His injuries consisted of bruising to his face, a cut to his head, which left a permanent scar, dislocation of his right shoulder and further injuries to his legs. On top of these injuries, he now suffers from severe headaches and has to undergo physiotherapy for his shoulder. As a result, Matthew was unable to work for four months, and is unlikely to work for another 6 months, according to his consultant. He has a wife and a daughter and has a joint mortgage on his house.
Matthew would like to bring a claim for personal injury and he can do so under tort. Tort as defined by Jacqueline Martin1 is a civil wrong. The law of tort protects people, their property, and their reputation. A claim will be brought if someone through his or her breach of duty of care injures you, your property or reputation. Tort is a civil private matter where the claimant seeks compensation and it has a deterrent effect as it encourages individuals to behave more responsibly which is why Matthew is bringing a civil claim, as he does not want to punish but rather seek compensation for the injuries caused. Under the law of tort, lies the tort of negligence. Negligence is whereby the breach of a duty of care results in damage to the claimant undesired by the defendant. The court needs to prove that the claimant suffered a damage; the defendant owed the claimant a duty of care and that it was breached causing the claimant reasonably foreseeable damage. The law of tort recognizes physical damage whether it be to him or his property and consequential economic loss. In this case Matthew has suffered physical injury and would like to seek compensation for his pain and suffering. Mathhew has been left with bruising to his face, a cut to his head, which left a permanent scar, dislocation of his right shoulder and further injuries to his legs. On top of these injuries, he now suffers from severe headaches and has to undergo physiotherapy for his shoulder He also has been subjected to consequential economic loss, as he has medical bills, physiotherapy, is unable to work which results in a loss of income for him, his family and his mortgage.
Under tort of negligence, duty of care needs to be established. This can be established through the case of Donoghue v Stevenson (1932) and Caparo Industries plc v Dickman (1990). The facts of this case include a friend who bought his friend, the claimant, ginger beer. The sealed bottle had a decomposed snail and the claimant was sick due to the snail. She sued the manufacturer for negligence and she won as the judgment stated that the manufacturer owed the consumers a duty of care. This leads to what Lord Atkins stated, “ persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act.” This is known as the neighbor principle, which defines who owes this duty of care. The caparo test is a broader way of determining duty of care and is done through the three stage test. The damage must be reasonably foreseeable; there must be a relationship of proximity between the claimant and it must be fair for the law to impose this duty of care. In this case the damage is foreseeable as stacking boxes on high shelf with a forklift needs to be done cautiously. Proximity is the relationship between the employer and the employee which in this case is Medx Ltd and Matthew. `A breach of the duty of care is when someone fails to act as a reasonable man would. This is established through the case of Nettleship v Weston (1971) where the judge ruled that the standard of care should be of an experienced driver even though the defendant was a learner driver. This results in fairness in the courtroom as they treat everyone at the same level of expertise. When analyzing this case we can clearly see that employee x acted negligently which resulted in the accident. However, because this incident happened in the workplace, employee x may not be held liable.
Negligence requires causation which is tested with the but for test. But for the defendants negligence would the claimant have suffered? In this case we look at Medx Ltd, if they had supervised the first employee, Matthew would have not been injured. The case of Barnett v Chelsea and Kensington Hospital Management Committee (1968) where three night watchmen who went to the hospital after being sick after drinking tea at work. The doctor did not see the patients and told the men to go home. After a few hours, one man died from arsenic poising and the claimant sued the hospital. However, because the death was not caused as a result of the doctors breach of duty of care, as the arsenic has spread and even if the doctor has seen him he wouldn’t have been able to save him. Thus, not allowing the widow to bring a case against them. It is Medx Ltd’s job to run a secure and orderly system of work and had they been more careful, the injury would have not resulted.
The claimant, Mathew, was partly to blame as he was not wearing his helmet as required which is also known as contributory negligence as the damages suffered were partly a result of him not wearing his helmet. But for Matthews’s negligence, which in this case is him not wearing his helmet, would he have still suffered? According to his injuries which consist of a dislocated shoulder and injuries to his leg, it shows that yes he should have worn his helmet; however he would have still suffered whilst wearing it. This does not mean that Mathew cannot bring a claim, on the contrary he can, however the damages awarded to him will be apportioned by the amount he was to blame.
The general rule in tort law is that a person who authorizes a tort will personally be liable for damage or harm as a result. However, vicarious liability defines the circumstances in which a person is liable for the torts of another without express authorization or ratification. The most common example of vicarious liability is the liability of an employer for the torts of his employees committed in the course of employment. Vicarious liability applies to this case which means that a person, or in this case Medx lTD is responsible for the torts of another, which is the employee who used the forklift. Medx is automatically responsible because the employee who used the forklift is working on behalf of the company, which shows a special relationship which infact he was.The employee must be acting in the case of their employment, which applies to this case as this incident happened leaving the employer liable. Even if one was to argue that the first employee who used the forklift did so carelessly, the employer will still be held liable. An example from case law is Century Insurance v Northern Ireland Road Transport Board (1942) where the employee was delivering petrol to a garage. The employee lit a cigarette and threw the match while the petrol was being piped which resulted in an explosion leaving the employer liable for the damage caused. There are many reasons why the employer should be held liable, the first being that the company tends to have more money and will be able to pay the compensation if an injury occurs. As the company receives benefits and profits from their employees, they also have to suffer the consequences and pay for losses. The employee has the power to choose who works for them and if they choose a careless individual then they are aware of the risks that come along with that. Finally, the employer must provide a safe workplace that will increase the standards of work and training at their business. Lord Wright stated that the whole course of authority consistently recognizes a duty which rests on the employer, and which is personal to the employer, to take reasonable care for the safety of his workmen, whether the employer be an individual, a firm, or a company, and whether or not the employer takes any share in the conduct of the operations. The obligation is threefold, “ the provision of a competent staff of men, adequate material, and a proper system and effective supervision
All in all Matthew can bring a claim against Medx Ltd.Vicarious liability is a legal doctrine that allocates liability for an injury to a person who did not cause the injury but who has a particular legal relationship to the person who did act negligently. In this case, MedX Ltd is liable for Matthews’s injuries because even though the it was one employee’s careless error the company is automatically responsible under. Under tort, there is a responsibility on one person for the failure of another, with whom the person has a special relationship, for instance, doctor and patient, parent and child and in this case employer and employee, to exercise such care as a reasonably prudent person would use under similar circumstances. The most important element to establishing a case for vicarious liability is that the wrongdoer is as in this case anemployee, and that the fault was during the employee's course of employment. Matthew will receive damages in the form of compensation; however the court may deduct money because of his failure to wear a helmet.
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