In legal terms, we refer to being partly at fault for an accident as ‘contributory negligence’. A person who makes an accident at work claim (or any other type of claim) may have contributed to their accident because of contributory negligence. If so, it will reduce their compensation, but that is all. For contributory negligence, someone else must also have been negligent and that someone is the employer.

Usually, contributory negligence cases involve the claimant knowingly taking a risk in how he does his work. The case of Eyres v Atkinsons Kitchens and Bedrooms Ltd is often used as an example of explaining how contributory negligence works in practice, in an accident at work claim,

In Eyres, the claimant, C, had been driving his employer, D’s van, along a motorway. C was a kitchen fitter; he and his colleagues worked long hours and were well-remunerated.

On the day in question, C was driving back home from a job and had been awake continuously for around 19 hours when he lost control of his vehicle. He received severe injuries in the accident that followed.

C brought an accident at work claim against his employer (a passenger in the van at the time of the accident) for breach of duty of care. C had fallen asleep because he was tired, which was the cause of the accident.

When the claim went to court, the judge decided that C was partly to blame for the accident. However, D had put him into the unenviable position of having to drive when he must have realised that C was at serious risk of falling asleep at the wheel.

On appeal, D was found primarily (mainly) liable, with C’s contributory negligence assessed at 33 per cent. This percentage included a 25% reduction from C’s damages (compensation) for not wearing a seatbelt).

Summary of contributory negligence in Accident at Work cases

Once an employer has been found mainly at fault for an employee’s accident at work, it will generally take an act of ‘reckless disregard’ by an employee of his employer’s orders before a court finds contributory negligence against the employee.