“Health and Safety gone mad.” “ A compensation culture”. Both familiar cries from the current Government and to an extent their predecessors. The Government has introduced a Bill which it believes will go some way to countering this.
The Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill proposes to protect have- a- go heroes, the emergency services and responsible employers from the threat of a damages claim. The Bill received its second reading in the House of Commons on the 21st July 2014.
The MOJ preamble to the Bill reads as follows:
“The Bill has been developed in a response to concerns that people may be put off from taking part in voluntary activities, helping others or intervening in emergency due to worries about risking liability. The Government also wants to make sure that when people such as employers have been taking a responsible approach towards the safety of others trying activity and something goes wrong, the Courts will take account of the circumstances.
The Bill therefore contains measures to reassure people that if they are acting for the benefit of society, intervening in emergency or demonstrating a generally responsible approach towards the safety of others during an activity, then if something goes wrong and they are sued for negligence or for certain breach of statutory duty, the Court will take account of the full context to their actions.”
In considering the above, firstly, where is the evidence that claims are brought against individuals who have caused injury when carrying out an act of heroism? What self respecting Claimant lawyer would seek to bring a claim against a member of the public who dislocated a person’s arm as they attempted to pull them out of a canal, when they were drowning? Even if they were bold or stupid enough to do this what is the likelihood of it succeeding at trial?
Secondly, who would bring a claim against an employer where the evidence was that they had acted entirely responsibly and the injury suffered was entirely the employee’s fault?
Thirdly, the Bill provides no definition of when a person may be working “for the good of society” (Clause 2); whether someone has acted in a “generally responsible way” (Clause 3) and whether someone has acted “in an emergency” (Clause 4).
Fourthly, certain critics of the Bill have suggested that if it was to become law it could serve to leave people more vulnerable. Introduction of the law may lead to employers believing that they can avoid liability if they cause injury providing they were simply “doing their best”.
The Bill also begs the question what was the purpose of the Compensation Act 2006?
Perhaps unsurprisingly the Bill has been criticised in most quarters. It is not as if the matters raised in the Bill are not of importance, but does the Judiciary really need to be reminded to consider them when trying a negligence claim. Do Judges need legislation to require them to consider whether a Defendant has acted responsibly? Do they not already do this when exercising their judgment?
Those who champion the Bill undoubtedly believe it to be well intentioned and view it as striking a necessary blow against what they perceive to be compensation culture. Others, however, view it as at best a pointless piece legislation and at worst potentially dangerous, and a further erosion of the rights of workers.