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Published 12 September 2019
The question of whether an organisation should be liable for injuries suffered by a volunteer whilst performing an unauthorised act, contrary to an express prohibition, was considered by the High Court in the recent appeal of Watson v The Richmond Fellowship.
A competent handyman, the Deceased volunteered at the Defendant’s premises twice each week over a number of years.
Tasked with working with a colleague to clear gutters, the Deceased was expressly instructed not to go onto the roof (albeit ladders were used), as a consequence of which some of the guttering was unable to be cleared. After completing the task, to the extent that it was possible from the ladders, the ladders were put away and an employee of the Defendant reminded the Deceased and his colleague that they were not permitted to climb onto the roof, and should not try to clear the remaining guttering.
Later that day, without instruction, and contrary to the express instruction not to go onto the roof, the Deceased retrieved the ladders (acknowledging to his fellow volunteer that he knew that he was acting against the express instruction) and climbed onto the roof. As the Deceased attempted to descend from the roof he slipped and fell, suffering injuries; he died some time after the accident.
The claim of the Deceased’s Estate was dismissed at first instance at trial, following which the Estate appealed against the judgment.
On appeal, Mr Justice Marcus Smith considered whether the Defendant had taken all reasonable steps to ensure that its volunteers and employees were safe; no distinction was drawn between volunteers and employees insofar as the duty owed was concerned.
Whilst the Deceased’s fellow volunteer had known that the Deceased intended to climb onto the roof, and whilst he told the Deceased not to, but failed to prevent him climbing onto it, the actions of the volunteer in reminding the Deceased of the express instruction not to climb onto the roof, combined with the express prohibition given, satisfied the Defendant’s duties. Through instructing the Deceased not to climb onto the roof, twice, and through the fellow volunteer’s reminder of the prohibition, the Defendant did all it could reasonably have done.
The appeal was dismissed and the judgment dismissing the claim was upheld.
This judgment is a useful reminder that where an employer has done all which it reasonably could do to prevent an accident, and an employee (or volunteer) chooses to place himself in danger, contrary to the employer’s actions and instructions, the employer should not be liable for injuries resulting from the injured person’s unauthorised actions.
DAC Beachcroft’s EL / PL Team represented the successful Defendant in this claim.
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