Appeal Court rules council not liable for injury caused by poorly-maintained ramp

A local authority has won its appeal against a ruling that might have led to employers being liable for injuries to staff caused by equipment the employer had not supplied or maintained.

In the case of Smith v Northamptonshire County Council, a council driver injured an ankle as she pushed a wheelchair-bound patient down a wooden ramp at the patient’s home. The edge of the ramp – which had not been installed by the local authority – crumbled, causing the driver to slip.

She sued the council, claiming inadequate work equipment under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER), and won. The judge ruled that the ramp was ‘work equipment’ under the regulations, and that it was inadequately maintained.

Northamptonshire County Council took the case to the Court of Appeal, which held that the ramp was not work equipment and the county council had neither the ability nor the right to maintain it.

Rubina Zaidi, insurance litigation specialist at law firm Shoosmiths, said if the appeal had failed employers could have been liable for injuries to their staff caused by equipment neither supplied nor maintained by them.

“Quite how they would be expected to know about or to have any control over the condition or suitability of a third party’s equipment is unknown, and may have meant employers being responsible for equipment in private homes,” she said.

However, further appeals may be made to the House of Lords and subsequently to the European Court of Justice.

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