Killing for company

Top of the agenda at the conference was the issue of corporate manslaughter
and its legal implications

Corporate manslaughter was the hottest topic at the Forest Occupational
Health and Safety Group’s 31st annual conference. Barrister Dr Kenneth
Gulleford, director of legal training at Professional Solutions and Services,
gave a paper on the subject which was followed by a workshop in which the
simulated trial of a company director following a workplace death was conducted
with the help of a fellow barrister and a judge. Conference delegates gamely
volunteered to play the other roles in the drama.

According to Dr Gulleford, corporate killing is defined as what occurs in
the case of a death where there is no intention to kill, which would be murder,
but the act is sufficiently culpable as to attract a criminal penalty. To cause
death by mere negligence is not uncommon and will usually result in civil
claims brought by the dependants of the deceased usually under the Fatal
Accidents Act. However, the negligent act may be considered as so extreme, or
gross, as to warrant a criminal prosecution resulting in a fine or term of

One case cited involved a patient who, when undergoing eye surgery in
hospital under anaesthetic and on a ventilator, developed symptoms of cardiac
arrest. The anaesthetist failed to notice that an endotracheal tube had become
disconnected and some four-and-a-half minutes elapsed before a warning sounded
on the Dinamap machine, which monitors blood pressure.

On getting this warning the anaesthetist administered atropine to raise the
patient’s pulse and checked various items of equipment. He failed, however, to
check the endotracheal connection until too late and the patient suffered
cardiac arrest and died.

The anaesthetist was charged with manslaughter and was convicted. The
conviction was against the individual and not against the employing hospital or
NHS trust. But a civil claim for compensation could be brought against the
employer under the common law doctrine of vicarious liability, which makes an
employer liable for the negligence of an employee.

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