High Court Rules on Employer Duty of Care in Manning v Dnata Catering: Workplace Safety and Contributory Negligence Key Issues

Citation: [2023] EWHC 3302 (KB)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the case of Peter Manning v Dnata Catering UK Limited, the High Court considered a claim arising from an accident at work leading to the claimant sustaining serious injuries. The legal principles discussed revolve around the employer’s duty of care, the provision of a safe working environment, the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, and contributory negligence. The judgment by Deputy Judge David Pittaway KC examined the evidence, witness credibility, and the actions of both parties leading up to the accident.

Key Facts

Mr. Manning, an employee of DNATA Catering UK Limited, experienced a fall while tightening a strap around a cart, leading to a fractured vertebra. The contention was over the safety of the working environment, specifically the suitability and security of the strap and the corresponding rail fixtures on the lorry, identified as R68, used for loading. The lorry had since been scrapped without inspection, generating a debate over the possibility of drawing adverse inferences due to lost vital evidence. Key points of the claim hinged on whether DNATA provided a safe system of work, took appropriate risk assessments, and supplied suitable equipment per regulatory standards.

Several legal principles were at play in this judgment:

Duty of Care and Safe System of Work

The foundational tort principle in play is the employer’s duty to take reasonable care to provide a safe working environment, including suitable equipment and systems of work. This principle encompasses an assessment of the risk involved in their employees’ tasks and the implementation of measures to mitigate such risks (Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992; Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999).

Evidence and Credibility

The case also examined the validity and credibility of evidence provided. It demonstrated the court’s reliance on consistent accounts from the claimant and the issues with evidence given by DNATA’s witnesses, which lacked corroboration. The absence of direct evidence regarding the specific lorry in question underscored the importance of thorough and contemporaneous investigation and preservation of evidence.

Contributory Negligence

The concept of contributory negligence was central to the outcome. It encapsulates the notion that a claimant’s own lack of care, contributing to their injury, can lead to a reduction in recoverable damages.

Adverse Inference

The aspect of adverse inference arises if a party has destroyed or made it difficult for the other party to present relevant evidence. As set out in Keefe and other cases, failure to preserve crucial evidence can entitle the court to make unfavorable factual findings against the party responsible for that evidence’s unavailability.

Outcomes

The court ruled that the accident occurred as Mr. Manning described and was due to the strap suddenly coming loose. It was found that Mr. Manning attempted to use unsuitable equipment due to a lack of proper straps for lorry R68. The evidence from DNATA’s witnesses was not accepted, and the claimant’s account, corroborated by others, was preferred.

The judgment found DNATA at fault for not providing an adequate system of work, safety equipment, or complying fully with its obligations under health and safety regulations. However, the court also determined Manning contributed to his injury by not following a safer procedure and therefore applied a 25% contributory negligence reduction to damages.

No adverse inference was drawn against DNATA due to the scrapping of lorry R68, as the decision to scrap the lorry was found unrelated to the accident and the loss of evidence was seen as regrettable but understandable in the context of the COVID pandemic.

Conclusion

The High Court’s judgment in Peter Manning v Dnata Catering UK Limited serves as an instructive case for analyzing an employer’s duty of care regarding workplace safety. The court’s decision underscores the significance of consistent and credible evidence, the necessity of preserving potential evidence, and the role of contributory negligence in determining damages. This case provides valuable insights into the legal interpretation of workplace injury claims, the importance of risk assessments, and the impact of evidence (or lack thereof) on the judgment of such claims.

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