In this article we will take a look at “ignorantia legis neminem excusat” which is Latin for ignorance of the law excuses no one. This is a very important factor when it comes to personal injury claims and the actions of both the claimant and the defendant. Many people have the idea that a personal injury compensation claim is either proved or unproven. In reality, there are many different shades of proven/unproven in between.
Whether you are an employer, member of the general public or an employee, we all have obligations to each other. The idea that if you are injured in the workplace, it is immediately your employer’s fault is not always correct. For example:-
Your employer has an obligation to protect the health and well-being of their employees and customers.
Employees have an obligation to abide by employer regulations and guidelines, as well as protecting the health and well-being of those around them.
General public obligations
Whether you are driving a vehicle or simply walking across the road, as two examples, you have an obligation to protect the health and well-being of those around you. In a nutshell, act sensibly!
What do your obligations actually entail?
It is very easy to confirm that we each have obligations to ourselves and those around us, but how deep do these obligations go? As you might have guessed, the detailed obligations of an employer, employee and member of the general public can look very different. However, under the surface there are still the same core obligations.
In theory, there are far more dangers outside of the workplace than within the workplace. However, the fact that employees spend a significant amount of their life in work creates potentially constant dangers. So, as an employer you have an array of different obligations such as:-
Upkeep of equipment
Whether you’re working in an office environment, factory, outside or a warehouse, it is likely that you’ll come across an array of different equipment. This may include something as simple as a coffee machine through to a forklift truck and other heavy duty machinery. There is an overriding obligation to ensure that all machinery in the workplace is:-
- Maintained on a regular basis
- Promptly repaired when there are issues
- Protective equipment is in place
- Replaced when deemed dangerous
While this all seems very sensible and straightforward, in the midst of an economic downturn it can be very easy for employers to cut corners. If an employee was to be injured as a consequence of poorly maintained machinery then the employer could be open to legal action.
Training is something of a win-win situation for employers because while it is a legal obligation, it should also increase productivity. However, there is a general misconception that training is something of a one-off issue when you join your employer. That’s not the case!
The training obligations for your employer are as follows:-
- Initial health and safety training
- Ongoing health and safety training updates
- Production of manuals in the workplace
- Contact point for specific questions
In many ways the COVID pandemic is a prime example of the need to maintain a direct line of communication with all employees. This ensures that any regulatory and operational changes within the workplace are delivered in a clear and prompt manner. As we have seen with the pandemic, failure to abide by regulations may not only lead to legal action, but can lead to death.
Know your employee
In the financial world there is a regulatory requirement to “know your client”. This means that you should be aware of your client’s experiences and financial background in order to give them the best (most appropriate) financial advice. There is a similar obligation on the part of employers which revolves around one specific issue:-
- Matching employee skills/experience with specific tasks
If an employer was to ask an inexperienced employee, or one without the required skill set, to do a particular task, they are putting themselves at risk. If the employee was injured because they had insufficient training/experience, this could be deemed negligent. As a consequence, an employer could be taken to court for personal injury compensation.
Industry specific obligations
We have covered the main areas of responsibility with regards to employers although there are many industry specific obligations which will emerge. As we touched on in the first paragraph, ignorance is not an excuse when it comes to the law. In fact, ignorance to your obligations could be seen as an even greater dereliction of duty!
In years gone by there was a common misconception that any injuries in the workplace were purely and simply the fault of employers. Slowly but surely, the reality is starting to filter through into the workplace. Yes, we know that employers have a range of obligations towards their employees and their customers, but employees also have their own particular set of obligations. These include:-
Taking reasonable care of your own health and safety
Many will be surprised to learn there is a relatively high degree of common sense expected by the law courts. Therefore, as an employee you have an obligation of care towards your own health and safety. If you were injured as a consequence of your own negligence, this may have a serious impact upon any personal injury claim.
Taking reasonable care of the health and safety of those around you
Yes, believe it or not, while employers have a responsibility for all of their employees, employees also have a responsibility to those around them. Inappropriate actions which result in injuries to others may see the employee taken to court rather than the employer. So, next time you get involved in a degree of tomfoolery in the office, just remember your obligations!
To co-operate with your employers training programme
While your employer has an obligation to deliver the correct training on an ongoing basis, as an employee, you have an obligation to co-operate with your employer. If for example, you failed to attend various training programs and were then injured as a consequence of “missed guidance”, you could be held wholly or at least partially responsible. It is important to be aware that while your employer has various obligations, they are not there to literally hold you by the hand.
To abide by employer rules and regulations
Simple subject matter such as wearing only appropriate clothing in the workplace, where for example earrings and jewellery may get caught up in machinery, is the responsibility of each employee. As long as your employer has advised you of the regulations, you understood the regulations then any breaking of these regulations may impact your claim for personal injury compensation.
Inform your employer of injuries/illness as a consequence of your working practices
With the best will in the world, your employer cannot be here, there and everywhere at the same time. As a consequence, they will depend upon a degree of employee feedback when it comes to injury or illness as a consequence of working practices. Failure to report injuries or illness may not only negate your potential claim for compensation, but it could impact the well-being of others. This could be seen as part of your obligation to maintain the health and well-being of those around you.
Advising your employer of any medication which may impede your work
The rules and regulations with regards to the use of machinery are well-known and well documented. As a consequence, if you are taking any form of medication, which may acutely impact your performance with machinery, you should advise your employer immediately. If they were to force you to continue using the equipment, and you are injured, this would likely be seen as negligence. However, if you failed to report your medication and you were injured then this would likely weaken your case.
There are many examples of the legal obligations which the general public are bound to. The vast majority are simple common sense but unfortunately not everybody abides by these rules. These obligations include:-
Recognition of the health and safety of those around you
Perhaps an extreme example of recognising the health and safety of those around you is running into the middle of a busy road. Cars may need to swerve to avoid you, potentially causing injury to those in the vehicles or innocent bystanders. As a consequence, it is difficult to argue that you weren’t at least partially responsible for the injuries received by third parties. This would be an obvious consideration in any resulting court case.
Thankfully, common sense does prevail, even in the court of law. For example, if there was a spillage in a supermarket and there were appropriate warning signs, it would be sensible to avoid these areas. Therefore, if you ignored the warning signs and were somehow injured as a consequence of the spillage, where would you stand?
At the very best, you would be deemed at least partially responsible for your injuries. The likelihood is that you would be seen as more than partly responsible and could even see a personal injury compensation claim thrown out of court. However, it would be very different if, for example, the warning signs were inappropriate or the spillage had seeped into an additional area.
We have seen many personal injury compensation cases over the years which have resulted in shared negligence. This effectively means that more than one party was seen as negligent in a claim for compensation. So for example, if a judge ruled that there was a 50/50 split on negligence between an employer and an employee, the compensation would be adjusted accordingly.
It is therefore very important to take professional advice before pursuing a personal injury claim. Many personal injury claim companies will work on a no-win no-fee basis where they believe you have a decent chance of success. On the flipside, if they believe your claim is impaired in some shape or form, they will advise you accordingly.
This does not mean you can’t pursue your compensation claim, but you may need to pay your own legal expenses. If your claim was successful, it is more than likely these costs would be reimbursed together with any compensation award.
We all have legal obligations
Unfortunately, because the vast majority of large personal injury compensation claims tend to relate to employers, this can give the impression that only employers have legal health and safety obligations. The reality is that we all have a degree of obligation towards the health and safety of ourselves and those around us. It is also important that the law recognises a degree of common sense – failure to abide by this could have serious consequences for a compensation claim.