‘Partly at fault’ can be written in legal terms as ‘contributory negligence. The contributory negligence of a person who makes an accident at work claim (or indeed any other type of claim) can reduce the amount of compensation they receive, but that is all. It doesn’t mean the employer is not held liable for the accident.
Usually, contributory negligence cases involve the claimant knowingly taking a risk in the way that he carries out his work. Often used as an example of explaining how contributory negligence works in practice, in an accident at work claims, is the case of Eyres v Atkinsons Kitchens and Bedrooms Ltd.
In Eyres, the claimant, C, had been driving his employer, D’s van along a motorway. C was a kitchen fitter, and he and his colleagues worked long hours and were well remunerated accordingly.
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 (who was a passenger in the van at the time of the accident) for breach of duty of care. C had become tired and fallen asleep. 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 held to be primarily 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 makes a finding of contributory negligence against the employee.