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Thursday, 31 March 2011

Case Law - Walker v. Northumberland County Council (1995)

Case: Walker v. Northumberland County Council (1995)
Precedent: Stress

A social worker in charge of a team of field workers had reported his stress, arising out of a greatly increased workload. On his return to work he was given to understand that he would have an assistant to ease his workload, but it turned out that this assistant was only intermittently available. He suffered a second breakdown and had to retire.

This case established the precedent that an employer can be held liable for mental injury to an employee caused by work-related stress. This judgement underlined the employer’s duty of care to provide safe systems of work in respect of occupational stress as well as other hazards, and to take steps to protect employees from foreseeable risks to mental health.

Case Law - Tesco Supermarkets Ltd v. Nattrass (1972)

Case: Tesco Supermarkets Ltd v. Nattrass (1972)
Precedent: “Due Diligence”

Tesco was offering a discount on washing powder which was advertised on posters displayed in stores. Once they ran out of the lower priced product the stores began to replace it with the regularly priced stock. The manager failed to ensure the signs were taken down and a customer was charged at the higher price. Tesco was charged under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 for falsely advertising the price of washing powder. In its defence Tesco argued that the company had taken all reasonable precautions and all 'due diligence', and that the conduct of the manager could not attach liability to the corporation.

The House of Lords accepted the defence and found that the manager was not a "directing mind" of the corporation and therefore his conduct was not attributable to the corporation. The corporation had done all it could to enforce the rules regarding advertising.

Lord Reid held that "The person who acts is not speaking or acting for the company. He is acting as the company and his mind which directs his acts is the mind of the company. If it is a guilty mind then that guilt is the guilt of the company."

This is known as a due diligence defence and senior managers may be able to avail themselves of it where junior members of staff or other persons commit offences. Bear in mind that the Tesco case involved the interpretation of the Trade Descriptions Act and not health and safety at work legislation.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Case Law - Donoghue v. Stevenson (1932)

Case: Donoghue v. Stevenson (1932)
Precedent: Duty of Care (Neighbour Principle)

A friend of the claimant purchased a bottle of ginger beer. The claimant drank some of the beer in which was found the remains of a decomposed snail. She was subsequently ill and sued the manufacturer. She was unable to sue the manufacturer for breach of contract because the only contract that existed was with the claimant’s friend who had bought the ginger beer and the manufacturer.

The House of Lords held that the defendant being the manufacturer of the ginger beer owed a duty of care to the claimant as the consumer of the beer to take reasonable care to ensure that the bottle did not contain anything that might cause harm.

In this case the judge said that reasonable care must be taken to avoid acts or omissions which, with reasonable foresight, you would know would be likely to injure your neighbour. This is known as the “Neighbour Principle”. Therefore the test whether someone is a “neighbour”, in the legal sense, can be established if it can be reasonably foreseen that the act or omission may cause harm to them.