The claimant was a plasterer working in a town’s property. He was standing on a wooden board resting on two trestles. The board was about 10ft long by 12-14 inches wide and two inches thick. He was standing in the middle of the board when it broke. His case was based upon breaches of the Provision and use of Work Equipment Regulations.

So far so good. The defendants denied liability alleging that the claimant was the author of his own misfortune for standing on the board when he was failing to support the battens at intervals of a maximum distance of 1.5 metres as required by British Standard 2482 “specification for timber scaffold boards”. They claimed the board would be naturally weak at the centre and likely to bend and fracture.

The Judge preferred the evidence of the claimant that he had placed the trestles a correct distance apart and accepted that the board had simply broken. He rejected the defendant’s alternative explanation, which was that the claimant had missed his footing or stepped into a gap in between the boards. There was no finding of contributory negligence.

Mallett -v- Derwentside District Council. Newcastle County Court.

Dangerous doors

Three cases on doors this month:

a) A train driver got his thumb caught in a train door that he was trying to close. He had first tried to close the door with his left hand, which was the safest way of doing it because the door handle was designed in a such a way that if you used your right hand your thumb would stick out and overhang the side of the door on the doorframe. He tried to close it twice with the left hand but it bounced back. It was accepted that the door should have closed and if there was no obstruction there must have been something wrong with the door. He tried to use both hands, the right hand generating greater force. As he did so, his right thumb was crushed.

Evidence was produced of many injuries involving the door type. The defendants argued that the door was closed often (468,000 times), that five accidents in three years represented only 0.001 of occasions used and the Judge accepted that the statistical risk was too small to represent a design failure.

On Regulation 5 of PUWER the defendant’s witness accepted that problems might have been fixed on routine maintenance. The Judge concluded that there must have been something not working correctly and that this has caused the accident. There was no finding of contributory negligence.

Skepple -v- London Underground Limited. Romford County Court, 17 May 2007

b) The next involves a garage door. The claimant was employed by the defendants as a mayoral attendant. He had to close a garage door which he said was stiff and sticking on the ground so that a great deal of force was needed to push it. It had been like that for about three months and he had reported it to his supervisor on two occasions. The defendant’s case was that there was nothing wrong with it until after the accident, and that the problem had not been brought to the attention of the Council. They did not accept breaches of either PUWER or the Manual Handling Regulations.

The Judge found in favour of the claimant both on the Regulations and also at Common Law. There was no system of maintenance or repair. The Judge made no finding of contributory negligence.

Polley -v- Gateshead Council. Durham County Court ,15 May 2007

c) But it is not all good news.

In the last case the claimant was trying to open a door. The handle had a key code and a round handle that had to be turned in a clockwise direction. The metal that the handle was made of was quite smooth and as she was twisting the door handle it slipped so that the latch did not disengage. She pulled the door open but it failed to open and she felt a pain in her shoulder. She made a second attempt to open the door which was successful but again felt the pain.

We alleged that the door handle was defective. The defendants said that there was no problem with the door, that the latch mechanism was not defective, and the accident was caused by the negligence of the claimant. There was a report on the door,that had been prepared by an independent party in relation to the Disability Discrimination Act, which said that there was no problem with the door or the door furniture. The claim was dismissed.

Harvey -v- Hertfordshire County Council. Watford County Court, 23 April 2007.