The letter of the law tends to attract a number of descriptions and different names, many of which we would not be able to print in this article! Understandably, there seems to be a general misconception that common sense goes out of the window when it comes to legal cases. The main reason for this misconception is the highlighting of what are often complex cases when all of the information is not always made available.
So, when looking at personal injury claims, when does common sense prevail and how can you use that to strengthen your case?
Accidents in the workplace
While personal injury claims as a consequence of road traffic accidents tend to be most common in the UK, there are also a huge number of workplace injury claims. There is an array of different legal acts and regulations which cover health and safety in the workplace. However, there are many scenarios where it simply comes down to common sense as to whether a claim is successful or falls by the wayside.
Experience for a particular role
When handing a particular activity/role to a member of the workforce it must surely be common sense to ensure that they are experienced and able to carry out the activity in a safe manner. Unfortunately, we live in a world where time is money and many companies are understaffed, often leading to employees taking on a number of roles. Normally there would be no problem with this approach, it works for employees and it works for employers, but what if the individual lacks experience for a particular role?
It is probably easiest if we give you a couple of examples of issues in the workplace and why a common sense approach from the courts could lead to compensation.
Driving vehicles on the work floor
As the e-commerce industry continues to grow, we have seen huge expansion in the area of storage facilities across the UK. This has led to mega-storage buildings where goods are stacked high into the heavens. Huge cherry picking devices are often used to retrieve goods so they can be sent to customers. At first sight, using these vehicles appears very simple but only if you have the experience.
If you were injured while using one of these vehicles on the work floor you may well be able to claim compensation. Some factors to take into consideration include:-
- Were you sufficiently experienced to use the equipment
- Was there appropriate supervision
- Were you made aware of all health and safety guidelines
- Did you have the relevant qualifications
This all seems very straightforward, why would you place someone in charge of a vehicle if they lacked the appropriate experience, supervision and training?
Even if you were to make a “simple mistake” leading to an injury to yourself or a colleague there may still be scope to take legal action. It is not the fact it was a simple mistake it is the fact that you received inadequate training to the appropriate level to handle the machine. Unfortunately, in the current economic environment many people are afraid to shout out and report breaches of health and safety.
Excessive stress and long hours
Different people will react to excessive stress and long hours in different ways but when it comes to accidents in the workplace, common sense must prevail. Again, many people are afraid to come forward but working under excessive stress and long hours is not only challenging on a physical level but also mentally.
If as a consequence of stress and tiredness you made a “mistake” which led to an injury, do not automatically dismiss this out of hand. If it can be proved that you were been pushed to the limit by your employer with excessive stress and long hours, the courts may well take a commonsense approach. It is common knowledge that our reaction times slow the more tired we are and the more stressed out we feel. So, even if you were “to blame” for the work accident because of stress there may still be scope to take action. Indeed, in many cases this action could lead to changes in working practices and quite literally save the lives of others further down the line.
It is worth remembering that employers are legally obliged to:-
- Ensure employees have sufficient rest/breaks
- Carry out regular risk assessments
- Reduce stresses and physical challenges where possible
- Ensure employees have the correct equipment/clothing
- Carry out regular training on health and safety
It may sound commonsense to clarify that employees must have the correct equipment/clothing. The fact is that any added pressure to what can be difficult activities in the workplace could lead to slips, trips and falls and potentially life-threatening injuries. If it was proven that the appropriate action/training was not undertaken by the employer then common sense would prevail and legal action would be a real possibility.
As the number of medical malpractice claims against the NHS continues to grow it is worth taking a look at the court’s common sense approach to medical negligence claims. The pressure and time limitations which surgeons and other medical practitioners work under are not scenarios which members of the general public will ever experience. Faced with unexpected issues which can be life-threatening, they are very often forced to make an instance decision based on their gut instinct and experience.
In the case of medical malpractice compensation claims you will find that the actions taken by the defendant are measured against their peers. The question is simple, how would a similarly experienced practitioner have reacted in the same situation? If it can be proven that someone on a similar level would have acted in the same manner then any compensation claim would likely fail. Consequently, if it was proven that the individual should have taken a different approach, the common sense approach, then the claimant could have a relatively strong case.
In many ways this reflects the most basic of common sense approaches, how similarly experienced individuals would have reacted in the exact same scenario.
Weather related accidents
As storms and strong winds continue to sweep across the UK (even today we have Storm Brendan) the issue of weather-related accidents and potential compensation claims is a very interesting one. Weather-related accidents could involve:-
- Road traffic accidents
- Slips, trips and falls
- Being struck by objects
There are two ways to look at weather-related accidents and the potential to pursue compensation. If an individual decides to drive their vehicle in weather conditions which have attracted an official warning to “avoid travel at all costs” then quite simply they do so at their own risk. The authorities have carried out their legal duty; they have alerted the general public to extreme weather conditions and advised against travel. The same could be said of slips, trips and falls where weather conditions have made roads and paths dangerous. Again, you step out at your own risk – this is surely common sense?
When venturing out in storm conditions it is not difficult to see why people could be struck by objects ripped off roofs, lifted from gardens and swept along at high speeds. In many cases these are as a consequence of “acts of God” but what if for example you have a trampoline in your garden which is not tied down?
Surely common sense suggests that you have at the very least a moral obligation to ensure the safe well-being of those in your vicinity. If you fail to take heed of severe weather warnings, and items from your garden are lifted by the wind and cause damage to neighbours or their property, you could find yourself on the end of a significant compensation claim.
The rule of law is not set in stone
While there are laws which offer guidance to the courts, nothing is ever set in stone and there are many scenarios where common sense is taken into account. It is still down to the individuals involved to prove their case, present evidence but in exceptional circumstances what may seem like an innocuous case can turn out very differently. Whether driving, at work or at home, all individuals have both a moral and legal obligation to ensure the well-being of those in their local vicinity. This legal/moral obligation is extended when it comes to employment as employers are legally obliged to carry out regular training, risk assessments and many other actions to protect their position.
One prime example which may complicate the situation a little is that of a cyclist pursued for compensation after knocking over a pedestrian in London. The pedestrian readily admitted that they failed to check the road before crossing and effectively stepped out in front of the bicycle. Even though it was proven that the pedestrian failed to check the road before stepping out, the judge ruled that the cyclist was legally obliged to ensure the road was clear before continuing. This case resulted in compensation and costs totalling around £105,000 being owed by the cyclist, which has caused much confusion and upset.
We live in a world where laws are regularly quoted to us, common sense is often dismissed and some of the most bizarre cases make it to trial. However, when it comes to personal injury claims there is a degree of flexibly given to court judges. Very often you will see common sense prevail and as more legal precedents are set this will reduce the court time taken to consider unsubstantiated claims. These scenarios perfectly illustrate why you should take professional advice from a personal injury claims solicitor to ensure that your case is credible. They have been there, done it and can explain in great detail the pros and cons of your proposed action.