Employers may be liable for injuries sustained by third-party equipment

Thousands of employers could be sued by staff who are injured even when using equipment that wasn’t provided or maintained by them, a law firm has warned.

A Court of Appeal judgment on a case where a worker was injured at a private home when a ramp collapsed is expected some time this month.

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, and won. The judge ruled that the ramp was ‘work equipment’ under the regulations, and that it was inadequately maintained.

Northamptonshire County Council appealed, believing there would be widespread implications should the appeal fail.

Rubina Zaidi, insurance litigation specialist at law firm Shoosmiths, said: “The appeal decision is crucial for all employers sending staff to premises where they might use equipment owned or supplied by third parties.

“If it fails, it means employers could be liable for injuries to their staff caused by equipment neither supplied nor maintained by them.

“Quite how they will 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 mean employers could be responsible for equipment in private homes.”

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