The High Court in Belfast recently considered the question of liability for a workplace accident.

By way of background, the Plaintiff is an experienced horsewoman who was employed by the Defendants. Their business includes looking after circa 30 horses. 

In the course of her employment, the Plaintiff was exercising one of those horses, ‘Kate’, noted for its good temperament. Kate was travelling at a ‘slow trot’ when it became spooked by a piece of blue plastic bale wrap lodged in a hedge. As a result, Kate fell on the Plaintiff causing her substantial injury.

Another employee gave evidence contradicting the Plaintiff’s account. Specifically, it was claimed that an inspection had taken place immediately prior to the incident and that no specific hazards were noted.  Further, it was alleged that a system for dealing with bale wrap, a recognised spooking risk, was in place.

The Court held that:

The defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, as an employee, to take reasonable care in the circumstances. …The breaches of the defendant’s duty of care, both in respect of the absence of a system for dealing with debris from opening bales of fodder and in relation to the inspection of the route to be taken by horses within the enterprise, in the court’s estimate, on the balance of probability, caused the risk to transpire, with the result that the plaintiff sustained substantial personal injuries as a result of the accident.

Damages were agreed in excess of £90k.

What steps has your business taken to mitigate hazards in your workplace?

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Buchanan v. Courtney [2019] NIQB 84

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