Tort Case Note & Commentary Assignment
Section A: The Case (20 marks)
Paris v Stepney Borough Council 1950 UKHL 3, 1951 AC 367, 1951 1 All ER 42 (HL)
Paris, the appellant, was employed as a garage hand at the Stepney garage. His employers, the defendants, were aware of the fact that he had only one good working eye, as the other eye had suffered injuries due to previous enemy action, which is assumed to be taken to be that he took part in the war. His work required cars to be raised on a level above a pit, and for this work, it was necessary to stand with his eyes levelled directly or slightly below the part he was working on. The appellant was working on the back axle of a vehicle and he struck a rusted bolt with a hammer, and a chip flew and lodged into his only good eye. He was not wearing goggles whilst he was working on this vehicle, which rendered him blind in both eyes. The appellant was claiming damages on the basis that the employers were negligent in failing to provide and the requirement of the use of appropriate goggles.
Lynskey first heard the case in the High Court and passed judgment. The case was heard in the Court of Appeal. The judges present consisted of: Lord Goddard, C.J., Asquith, L.J., and Vaisey, J. The decision held was that there was a breach of duty of care as the appellant was blind in one eye and the employers were under a duty to him to provide and require the use of goggles, and the duty was breached specifically to the appellant due to his specific circumstance of having one good eye. As they had failed this duty, the appellant had established negligence. However, this decision was reversed and the appellant appealed to the House of Lords.
This case was then heard in the House of Lords. The Judges present consisted of Lord Simonds, Lord Normand, Lord Oaksey, Lord Morton of Henryton and Lord MacDermott. The judgement was passed on the 13th December 1950. The decision held was that although the appellant’s disability did not increase the risk of an accident occurring, but rather, it increased the chances of a serious injury to occur if an accident were to take place, hence the special risk of injury is a significant consideration in determining the precautions which the employers must undertake and owes to the employee as a duty of care. It was also held that there was enough evidence to sustain that the employers were negligent in failing to provide eye-wear resulting in that he is entitled to damages.
The issues present between each party was whether the employers owed a duty of care and if they met the standards of care by the failure of providing goggles. The appellant claimed that the employers owed him a duty of care as they failed to provide goggles, especially knowing his circumstances, and knowing that the type of work that the appellant was working on had a risk of injury, especially considering he had one good working eye that the employers were very well aware of.
Paris won the case.
Section B: Analysis of the Judgements (40 marks)
Lynskey, J. held the decision that the employers were under a duty to provide goggles and require the usage of the goggles, considering the employers were aware of the fact that he only had one good eye and because they had failed this duty, the appellant established negligence. The appellant claimed damages on the employer’s negligence of the failure to provide goggles and requiring him to use the goggles to protect his eyes. From the provided evidence, it was apparent that goggles were not supplied for workmen employed on the maintenance and repair of vehicles. Paris, the appellant, was not the only individual whose eye had been injured due to this type of work. Arnold Steeley, a workman at the garage, shared an experience similar to Paris, where he was removing rust from a wheel and a piece of rust chipped and caught him in the eye. This may have led to part of Lynskey, J.’s decision held considering that this type of accident took place before but was overlooked as this type of work has been going on for years and had ‘become natural to get in there without protection’, however, Paris’ case is different due to his lack of eyesight in one eye before the accident at the garage. Lynskey, J. gave judgement in favour of the appellant for 5,250l/ for damages and cost. In the case of Smith v Charles Baker & Sons1 the concept of foreseeability is mentioned, in that, though the risk was apparent, it was the employer’s duty to make an attempt to reduce all the injuries that could possibly be caused due to the risks present. This concept of foreseeability is also present in the case of Donoghue v Stevenson2. Lord Atkin’s test in this particular case establishes the “general concept of reasonable foresight as the criterion of negligence or breach of duty”. Lord Normand also agreed with the point that because the appellant only had one eye, the employers owed him a greater duty of care in comparison to two-eyed workmen, as the consequences of an accident would be much graver.
During this trial, it was constantly argued that the employers had not breached the duty by failing to provide goggles and the fact that the appellant had one eye was irrelevant in this situation, however, Beney, K.C. argued that the fact that he had only one eye must be taken into account as it plays a major role in this case – had it only been one eye that was injured, the weight may have been smaller but it is the fact that it was his only remaining eye was injured, leaving him blind which has consequences in both the short and long term. It was decided that the case was based on the fact that there was a special duty owed to the appellant as a one-eyed man. Lord Simonds continued to agree with the point that the employer owes a particular duty to each of his employees and that the appellant specific circumstance of having one eye should be taken into account and concluded with that “there was, so far as this particular plaintiff was concerned, a duty upon the employers to provide goggles and require the use of goggles as part of their system”. Furthermore, Lord Simonds continues to say that the employers did not owe a duty of care to “provide goggles to their workmen engaged on this work, at least if they were two-eyed men…the risk was not one against which a reasonable employers was bound to take precautions”. Again, the mention of “two-eyed men” does not include the appellant as he had only one good working eye but Lord Simonds dissented from this and concluded with that it was not in the system to provide goggles for two-eyed workmen because the “degree of risk did not demand that precaution in a reasonable employer” thus therefore allows for the conclusion to be made that there was no duty to provide goggles to one-eyed workers. Additionally, according to the evidence provided by Mr Reay and Captain Paterson, it was clear that the use of goggles for such a job was seldom, and in Captain Paterson’s whole experience he had only seen a man wearing goggles for such jobs “about a dozen times”. This only further highlights that the employers did not owe a duty of care and did not fall below the standard of care by not providing goggles for workmen.
However, this decision was reversed. This is because the standard of care was analysed and what precautions the “ordinary reasonable and prudent man” would take, and it was understood that the “prudent” employer would provide goggles for a one-eyed individual who was working on a chassis raised on an eye level. Further continuing from this, it had been established that the likelihood of a one-eyed man to get injured due to a splinter or a chip, as it had been in this case, is no greater than the likelihood of a two-eyed man – rather it is the level of injury that is relevant and there is a massive difference between the probability of an injury taking place and the level of injuries suffered. The fact that the appellant’s circumstances were not taken into consideration was quite objectionable because he only had one good eye, which had been lost to the chip from the rusted bolt. Not only would the lack of eyesight be a problem for his social and work life, as he would be unable to work at the garage anymore, it would also be a burden on others as he would then require the support of others to go about daily life.
The plaintiff appealed to the House of Lords. It was held that although the appellant’s disability did not increase the likelihood of an accident taking place, it increased the risk of serious injuries if an accident were to take place, therefore, the risk of injury is an important consideration to take into account when deciding the precautions the employers should take. In this case, the standard of care was breached due to the appellant’s specific circumstance of having one eye. This was a much fairer decision made as it took the appellant’s circumstances into account, and realised that the consequences for him to lose his eye was far much greater than it would have been for a two-eyed man, however, this is not to say that had this taken place with a two-eyed man it would hold no value. Furthermore, it was held that there was enough evidence to prove that the employers were negligent in failing to provide the appellant with goggles and the appellant was entitled to damages. However, Lord Simonds and Lord Morton of Henryton dissented with this view and stated that regardless of the circumstance, this kind of precaution was not necessary to be taken by the employers.
Section C: Your Commentary (40 marks)
The decision passed by the House of Lords was fair, as it took into account the appellant’s circumstance of having one good eye, which was injured rendering him blind, as the employers were negligent in failing to provide him with goggles and requiring the use of goggles. From evidence collated, it was apparent that the use of goggles was not a common practice in the workplace and similar accidents to the appellant had occurred but were overlooked. This is an issue. It is understood that the risk was far greater for the appellant as he had one good eye, however, the fact that anyone could be injured and left blind in one eye, or even both, should not be overlooked.
Blindness is a disability where it becomes difficult to go about day-to-day life due to the lack of ability to visualise – not only does it pose as a threat to one’s self, as you are vulnerable in that position, it may also act as a burden to individuals around as they may constantly have to be around the blind individual. Though the decision of the employers having fallen below the standard of care for the specific individual was correct, it must also be noted that goggles were provided for the majority of the workers apart from the workmen on the maintenance and repair of vehicles – this raises a question of concern because of the difference of working standards in the garage. All employees should be treated the same, or similarly, to avoid any sort of mishaps from occurring. Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act3 highlights the duties the employer owes to the employee, one of which is to ensure the safety of the employees, in s2 (b).
Perhaps the judges could have passed a stricter judgement in that not only did the employers fall below the standard of care, they should also provide and require the use of goggles for the rest of the employees working in the maintenance and repair of vehicles – this issue was not mentioned in the judgement which creates ambiguity as similar accidents may occur in the future, however, it can be said that it may have been assumed that the employers would introduce the usage of goggles and this case would set an example for other garage employers.
Word count: 2070
Horsey K & Rackley E, Tort Law, (5th edn, OUP Oxford) p. 233
Donoghue v Stevenson 1932 A.C. 562, 580
Smith v Charles Baker & Sons 1891 A.C. 325.
Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 c.37, s2
1 1891 A.C. 325.
2 1932 A.C. 562, 580.
3 1974 c.37