April 10, 2017

Prisoner undertaking community work failed to establish breach of statutory duty

A prisoner, who had been suffered serious injuries after falling from a ladder while undertaking community work at a church, failed to establish that the church had breached the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.

The Facts

The Claimant was a prisoner on day release, who had been working at Mereside Community Centre. He was transferred to the church hall to work as a general handyman under the supervision of a community worker.

The Claimant was told by his community worker that he was not permitted to use ladders and he signed a placement memorandum reiterating this restriction.

One afternoon whilst painting the church hall, the Claimant fell from the top of a 15-rung metal ladder owned by the Defendants, and suffered serious injuries. He brought a claim in negligence and for breach of statutory duty. He claimed the Defendants owed him a duty under reg. 3(3) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (the Regulations) on the basis he was an employee of the Defendants at the time of the accident.

First instance

The County Court held the Claimant had not been an employee of the Defendants and dismissed the claim in its entirety.

The Court found the Claimant to be an unsatisfactory witness whose evidence was unreliable at times. Furthermore the court held the Defendant had not instructed the Claimant to use a ladder and redecorate the church hall. The Claimant had been told by his community worker to paint the entrance hall, but the Claimant carried out the extra work on his own initiative.

On appeal

The Claimant appealed on two grounds – the recorder was wrong in his finding of fact that the Defendant had not instructed the Claimant to use the ladder, and the recorder had wrongly interpreted the Regulations.

  1. The Court of Appeal dismissed the first ground of appeal. The County Court had found, that whilst there was evidence to corroborate that a conversation had taken place between the Reverend Hudson and the prison authorities in regards to the Claimant undertaking work at the church, there was no evidence to corroborate that Reverend Hudson had instructed the Claimant to paint the wall and use the ladders. This fact alleged by the Claimant did not feature in his witness statement and was only heard orally. The Court of Appeal held the recorder rejected the Claimant's evidence because he did not believe him and this was justified.
  2. Under the Regulations, a defendant will owe a duty to a claimant if the defendant assumed control over the claimant in any way, for example, direct or instruct the claimant. In this case the County Court had held on the evidence that at all times the Claimant was controlled by the prison governor, his community worker and/or himself. The Court of Appeal upheld this decision.

What can we learn?

  • The case provides guidance to the extent of "control" under regulation 3(3) of The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. A claimant will have to prove the defendant was in control by way of providing evidence which shows the defendant instructed or directing the claimant to undertake activities.
  • The Court of Appeal rarely overturns a finding of fact made by the trial judge. The trial judge has heard oral evidence and is best placed to make decisions.