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Case Study

Damages for misuse of defective ladder

Scott was a lecturer at the University of Brighton. He was a member of NATFHE trades union (now known as UCU).

In July 2003 he was assisting his students who were mounting displays of their work in various public parts of the university campus.

One student required some work to be mounted on the wall. Scott obtained an “A-frame” ladder that was available for this purpose. He leant it against the wall without first opening the ladder.

When he climbed up the ladder it slipped and fell, trapping Scott's arm causing it to break. Scott sought advice from his trades union who recommended that he contact Field Fisher Waterhouse.

In August 2003, Scott instructed Andrew Morgan to make a claim against his employer. Examination of the ladder revealed that one of the rubber feet was missing.

Andrew alleged that this caused the accident and amounted to a defect in “work equipment” so that there was a breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations.

The defendants replied that the absence of a rubber foot was not the cause of the accident, but instead it was Scott's misuse of the equipment that caused the accident.

In addition, they said that since Scott was the Head of his Department he was responsible for preparing the risk assessments and for managing health and safety risks in his department so that, in effect, he was responsible for his own misfortune.

The defendants disclosed many pages of documentation setting out the written procedures for undertaking risk assessments at the university.

The university pointed out that instructions were fitted direct to the ladder saying in clear terms that the ladder must be fully opened before use. As a result, they denied liability.

On Andrew Morgan’s advice, Scott made a Part 36 Offer to settle the question of liability by making a substantial concession for his own “contributory negligence”. However, the employer continued to deny liability.

Andrew obtained the necessary medical evidence and issued and served court proceedings. At that point, the employer conceded primary liability and accepted Scott's concession regarding his own contributory negligence.

Scott sustained his injury just before the summer holiday and had largely recovered by the time the next term began in September. As a result he suffered no loss of earnings.

The defendants offered £4,350 damages for his injury, taking account of his “contributory negligence”. Scott was happy to accept that offer. In addition, the employer paid his legal costs in full.

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For further information about work accident claims and personal injury claims, please call Andrew Morgan on 0330 460 6737 or email


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