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Employer’s Liability – work or play?

Six figure compensation award for claimant injured at a work ‘day out’

The recent case of Reynolds v Strutt & Parker [2011] EWHC 2263 (QB) sheds new light on the issue of employers’ liability, particularly in relation to personal injury claims.

Two partners in the company, Strutt & Parker, organised an afternoon of events for employees at a country park. The afternoon was intended by the partners to be a ‘day out’ and “reward day” for the employees. The last of these events was a cycle race. Prior to event, the organising partners and the company’s head of safety met to discuss any safety issues. The decision was made to make the event a road race as opposed to mountain biking.

The participants were unaware of the nature of the events until they happened. They were only told that there would be a cycling race shortly before it began. Participants were informed that helmets were available but none were physically offered and in the end only one cyclist wore one out of the 12 competing.

Mr Reynolds, ahead for most of the race, was nearing the finish line when a colleague attempted to pass him. Their bikes collided, throwing both of them off. His colleague was the only participant wearing a helmet and sustained relatively minor injuries.  Mr Reynolds sustained a significant brain injury.

Judge Oliver-Jones QC found that the day out, described as a ‘reward day’ by Strutt & Parker, was not “in the course of employment” and therefore not subject to statutory duties, the organisers were still subject to common law duties. They had failed to adequately plan the event so as to assess and consider the risk such a race would pose to their employees.

This resulted in their failure to ensure the use of helmets.

Judge Oliver-Jones QC decided that the event was not “in the course of employment” and consequently not subject to Health and Safety Regulations. However, the argument advanced by Thomson Snell & Passmore and Mr Reynolds’ legal team was that a duty of care nonetheless arose from the relationship of employer / employee and organiser / attendee. The judge in this case agreed. He said that there was a duty on the employer to take such reasonable care as any reasonable employer would take, (a) to ensure that there employees were reasonably safe in engaging in the activities arranged and (b) in the arranging, management and organisation of the event.

The legal argument centred on the issue of planning and risk assessment. It appears that the only measure taken after any risk assessment was to exclude mountain biking from the day’s events. The judge accepted that the risk of collision in an amateur cycling race was an obvious one and it that had not been considered.

Judge Oliver-Jones QC said that the partners’ lack of engagement of the management of the country park was perhaps their greatest failure in any risk assessment process.

Strutt and Parker were vicariously liable for the inadequate organisation and risk assessment carried out prior to the event that contributed to one of their employees unfortunately sustaining a severe head injury and brain damage. It is an important reminder to employers that their duty of care extends beyond the office walls and that protection of their employees should be a paramount concern. When organising an event, where the organiser has limited experience in the activity concerned, it is an employers’ duty to ensure that adequate planning and risk assessments are carried out.

Mr Reynolds received a six figure sum of compensation.

Read more about our experience in cases involving accidents at worksports injuries and brain injury.

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