Unexplained Injuries and Employer’s Liability

It is perhaps one of the most fundamental rules of law that the responsibility of proving a case lies with the Claimant. Establishing liability poses its own difficulties and many hurdles can arise on the path to satisfying the burden of proof.

The recent case of Savigar v Ainscough Crane Hire Ltd [2021] EWHC 2707 (QB) illustrates the additional challenges faced by Claimants when the cause of their injury is not quite as clear-cut as it might seem.

The background

On 29th November 2014, Martin Savigar (“the Claimant”), who was employed as an HGV driver for Ainscough Crane Hire Ltd (“the Defendant”), was cleaning his tractor unit in the wash bay area at the Defendant’s depot. Shortly after 11:00am, the Claimant was found unconscious in the depot with severe head injuries.

The Claimant initiated legal proceedings against his employer, alleging that on the balance of probabilities, his injuries had been caused by a hook block attached to the Defendant’s crane, which was situated in the Defendant’s depot. According to the Claimant, the three quarter tonne hook block had moved and struck him on the head.

As with many mysteries, however, the circumstances surrounding the accident were far from clear. There were no witnesses or CCTV footage and the Claimant had no memory of the incident giving rise to his injuries. The Claimant’s protective hard-hat was neither dented nor marked and the records held by the Defendant verified that the crane engine had not been running between 9:21am and 6:27pm that day. Furthermore, examination of the hook block itself did not reveal any disturbance of previously accumulated dirt or dust.

Expert evidence revealed that the Claimant had sustained two different points of impact on his head. Both the Claimant and Defendant’s medical expert agreed that it was possible that the Claimant had been struck by the hook block, however, the plot thickened as another possible alternative explanation for the Claimant’s injuries was proposed by the medical experts, namely that the Claimant had been assaulted by a weapon.

The story so far…

Although the Defendant’s procedural handling of this matter was criticised, the Trial Judge dismissed the Claimant’s claim, noting that on the balance of probabilities, the Claimant had failed to satisfy the Court that he had been struck by the hook block.

The Claimant appealed that decision of the Trial Judge to the High Court citing 17 grounds of appeal, including an assertion that the Judge was incorrect not to find that the likely cause of injury was the moving hook block. After careful consideration, Mr Justice Knowles upheld the decision of the Trial Judge and dismissed the appeal. The Claimant has now applied for permission to appeal the decision to the Court of Appeal.

The mystery remains…

Almost a decade later, the mystery has yet to be solved and no conclusive explanation for the Claimant’s injuries has been determined. Although the decision of the Court of Appeal remains to be seen, this case acts a stark reminder of the further difficulties which Claimants may face when establishing liability if the cause of their injury is not clear. The burden of proof on the Claimant was to establish on the balance of probabilities that his injury was sustained as a result of negligence on the part of his employer or a fellow employee. To date, the Court has not been convinced that there was a 51% chance or greater, that the Claimant’s injury was sustained as a result of negligence in his workplace.

If you would like further information on the issues discussed in this article, please contact Jodie Rankin or another member of the Defence Insurance Litigation team.

About the author

Related Insights

All Insights