Claimant retains burden of proving negligence: trial judge’s decision a step too far

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Claimant retains burden of proving negligence: trial judge’s decision a step too far

Published 12 February 2019

Where the Claimant alleges that an accident within an ambulance occurred due to a negligent failure to inspect or maintain NHS equipment, does the fact that the Defendant holds the inspection and maintenance records mean that it is required to prove that it was not negligent?  Does the retention of records reverse the burden of proof, and require the Defendant to prove that it was not in breach of duty?  These questions were considered in the appeal against the Deputy District Judge’s decision in Jennison v Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust, the judgment in which was given by His Honour Judge Gosnell in the County Court at Leeds.

The Claimant, employed by the Defendant as a paramedic, suffered injuries as she alighted from an NHS ambulance. She alleged that the step mechanism at the side door of the ambulance had failed, as a result of which the step (which should have been deployed as the handbrake was applied) had retracted, leaving her to step down further than she had anticipated doing and leading to her suffering injuries.

The Defendant called evidence from the workshop manager, providing records of inspections of the ambulance prior to the accident, none of which had recorded a problem with the step following its replacement some months earlier. The workshop manager, whilst not the mechanic who had performed inspections on the ambulance in question, gave evidence on the system of inspection and maintenance and of how it included the step.

At trial, the Deputy District Judge found in the Claimant’s favour, finding that the Defendant had failed to prove that it had undertaken appropriate inspections and maintenance of the ambulance step prior to the accident. The Defendant appealed her decision.

On appeal, whilst the Defendant had not provided documentary evidence confirming that the step’s mechanism had been inspected, the Judge decided that the Defendant acted appropriately in calling evidence from the workshop manager rather than each and every mechanic who had worked on the vehicle (particularly as the mechanics would have relied on the same documents as the manager to give their evidence).  The Claimant failed to prove that the alleged fault had been present prior to the accident, that the Defendant was in breach of duty or that any breach on the Defendant’s part had caused the accident.

The Judge concluded that the Deputy District Judge had erred in reversing the burden of proof.  The Claimant was required to prove her case, which she had failed to do, leading the Judge to substitute his decision for that of the trial judge and dismiss the claim.

Whilst the judgment of a Circuit Judge on appeal from a Deputy District Judge, this is a useful reminder of the fact that the duty to prove the claim rests with the Claimant, and that the Court should dismiss claims where neither negligence nor causation can be proven.

Authors

David Williams

David Williams

Leeds

+44 (0)113 251 4844

William Swift

William Swift

Manchester

+44 (0)161 934 3109

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