The appellant was employed in 1942 by the respondents to work as a workman in its garage. He was one-eyed as a result of injuries he sustained during a war where he had enlisted as a soldier. Initially, his employers were not aware of the fact that one of his eyes was dysfunctional. However, after being medically examined at his employer's instance as a way of enabling him to become permanent staff entitled to a superannuation scheme, it was discovered that he had a disability which could not enable him to enroll as a permanent worker.
Paris was employed in the respondent's cleansing department. Here, his work involved the dismantling, repair, and maintenance of vehicles. One day in 1947 as he was dismantling and stripping the chassis of one of the employer's vehicles, a metal fragment came off the rusty bolt and hit his second eye, rendering him completely blind. In 1948, Paris commenced an action in tort against his employers. He argued that the employers were negligent and had breached a statutory duty by failing to provide him with goggles or require him to wear them, a precautionary measure which could have reduced the risk of injury to his only remaining eye.
In its defense, the employer denied the claim of breach of duty or negligence and in the alternative pleaded contributory negligence on the part of the applicant. The evidence on record indicated that other workers such as welders and grinder had been provided with goggles to protect them against too much light but the employers did not provide any googles or safety equipment to employees working on the vehicle maintenance and repair. The trial judge, Lynskey J., ruled in the workman's favor and awarded him costs and damages amounting to 5250l. According to the trial judge, after knowing that the applicant had only one useful eye left, the employers were under a duty to provide him with googles or require him to wear them. Thus, because they had failed to perform this duty, Paris had successfully established negligence on the employers' part. On appeal to the Court of Appeal, the judgment was reversed and set aside on the basis that no negligence had been established as the employers did not have any such general duty of care. It is at this point that Paris appealed to the House of Lords, resulting in the present case.
The main issue that fell for determination on appeal was whether the employer owed the workman a duty to provide him with or require him to wear goggles for safety. The case also raised the issue of whether the fact that the employers knew of Paris' disability was a relevant factor in quantifying damages. Also important was the question of whether the applicant's disability or the fact that he had only one eye remaining increased the risk of serious/grave injury should he be involved in an accident in the workplace. The House of Lords allowed the appeal.
Section B: Analysis of the Judgments
In his judgment, Lord Normand established the majority's ratio decidendi that where an employee suffers from a disability which is known to his employer and this disability increases the risk of serious injury to them should an accident befall them, a special risk of injury is created. Hence, an employer must take this into consideration when determining the precautions to take to fulfill their duty of care to the employee. According to his Lordship, this is the position even where the disability in itself does not increase the risk of occurrence of an accident while the workman is at work.
Furthermore, Lord Normand based his judgment and reasoning on the principle that the duty of care that employers owe their employees regarding health and safety is one that is owed to workers as individuals and not necessarily as employees in general. Moreover, according to his Lordship, the most important test that should be applied in determining the liability of employers for failure to provide safety equipment to their employees is that of an ordinarily prudent and reasonable man. Referring to Mackintosh v. Mackintosh, the judge reasoned that the test is whether a prudent and reasonable man in the employer's position would consider not only the probability of any accident taking place but also by the gravity of the consequences should the accident occur.
A critical analysis of Lord Normands judgment and determination of the issue is that the judge approached the questions of law from a wider perspective which enabled him to recognize the general common law principle regarding the duty of care of employers to employees. The judge was correct in reasoning and finding that the risk of injury and its probability should be a paramount factor to be considered in such cases. In the present case, the fact that the workman was one-eyed and worked without a goggle increased the risk of a piece of metal flying off and damaging his eye.
As held in North-Western Utilities Ltd v. London Guarantee and Accident Co. Ltd, the degree of care involved in the duty of an employer to provide safety equipment to employees should be weighed against the degree of risk involved should the duty not be performed. Furthermore, his Lordship was correct in considering the usual practice in cases. In Morton v. William Dixon Ltd, it was held that in cases where an employer's fault arises from an omission, what courts should consider in determining liability is whether the usual practice in similar circumstances would be followed by a prudent and reasonable man in putting in place necessary precautions to avoid injury to employees, The usual practice here as was evident from the evidence on record was that employers would normally provide their employees working in such risky environments or with some disability with equipment such as goggles. The employer in the present case failed and hence it was correct to hold him liable.
Further, in his judgment, Lord Oasky agreed with Lord Normand that in all the circumstances of a case, an employer has a duty towards his employees to take reasonable care to ensure the employees' safety. Also, the judge reasoned that one of the relevant factors to be considered in determining duty to take precautions is the employee's disability which if known to the employer, would increase risk of harm to them should an accident occur. Lord MacDermott also gave similar reasons for his decision to allow the appeal by Paris.
However, in his judgment, Lord Simmonds wrote a dissenting opinion on the issue of whether the respondent employers owed the appellant any duty of care to ensure his safety in the workplace. According to this judge, no duty was owed because the respondent in his statement of claim had pleaded a general duty owed to him and to all other employees who worked in the same line of work by the respondents. He also reasoned that an employer can and should only be held liable for negligence if they fail to take reasonable care with regards to a particular worker and not to all employees in general o which according to him was not the case here. Moreover, while he was in agreement with the majority that one of the relevant factors to be considered in such cases is the gravity of the injury. Lord Simmonds argued that the seriousness of the risk should also be taken into account while apportioning liability to employers something which the trial judge failed to consider. Also, he reasoned that the mere fact that the workman was one-eyed should not be a relevant factor to consider in determining the risk of injury.
Analytically, Lord Simmondss judgment falls short of the common law general principle that employers owe their employees a duty of care to provide them with and ensure that they wear protective clothing and equipment. This legal obligation becomes even more apparent and mandatory in the case of employees who are vulnerable to or have a high risk of injury due to their conditions or disability. In the present case, the employer knew that Paris was disabled in one eye but failed to provide him with a goggle which increased his risk of suffering an injury to his other eye. According to Dabydeen, the common law position is that an employer is under a legal obligation to take such steps as are reasonably necessary to ensure the safety of his employees.
The respondents failed this duty because it did not give Paris goggles in spite of the apparent risk of harm he was exposed to given the nature of his work and his disability.
Furthermore, on his part, Lord Morton while agreeing in part with the majority on the issue of whether Paris' one-eyed condition increased his risk of injury and hence the duty of his employer to take reasonable precautions to protect him, dissented. He argued that it was impossible for the court to reach a conclusion that a one-eyed workman has a remedy against their employer for harm caused to them while in the course of his employment but a two-eyed man does not have such recourse.
Critically, Lord Mortons judgment regarding the entitlement of the applicant to damages seems to be at odds with reality and established legal principles. For, as Tshoose observes, employers at common law owe their employees a duty to take reasonable care for their safety under all the circumstances of their engagement and this duty becomes even more mandatory where any of the employees are vulnerable to the risk of injury for any reason such as health or disability.The fact that Paris had only one eye left exposed him to a greater risk of injury than other employers with two eyes and hence the employer should have put in place additional safety measures and precautions including providing him with a goggle.
Section C: My Commentary
My commentary on the decision of the House of Lords in this case mainly relates to an evaluation of the judgment in terms of its social and legal impacts, whether the judges correctly answered all the legal questions presented before them, and whether there is vagueness in the judges' reasoning. I also consider the significance of the case as an important consideration worth an analysis.
To begin with, even though the decision was rendered by the court more than fifty years ago, the ratio established by the House of Lords regarding the duty of employers to take reasonable care for their employees' safety and health still stands. The case was thus correctly decided by the court given the facts, the evidence presented, and the circumstances around the claims brought by Paris against his employers. According to Kelly, Hammer, and Hendy, the duty of an employer to take reasonable care in respect to their employees' safety and health is a personal one owed to each individual employee and hence the employer cannot delegate it. This duty is fourfold and entails the duty to provide safe plant and appliances and provide a safe place and system of work. Usually, an employee has to prove that the employer breached these duties and the standard of care applied is that of a prudent and reasonable person. The applicant in this case successfully met this standard and hence the court was correct in allowing his appeal. The basis for such actions by employees against their employers for breach of statutory and common law duty of care to ensure their safety is the implied contractual duty.
However, as Horsey, and Rackley point out, based on causation, an employer may escape liability if they can prove that the employee would not have used the safety equipment provided or that it would not have minimized the risk as was the case in McWilliam v. Sir William Arrol & Co, Ltd (1962) HL 21. In addition to this, as Branson observes, there it is an established legal principle from Wilson & Clyde Coal Ltd & English...
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