A company with a long-hours culture has been found liable for an accident which left an employee paralysed.
Michael Eyres, 23, worked for Atkinsons Kitchens and Bedrooms Ltd. in Bradford. Late one evening, he was driving a van back to Bradford after a 19-hour working day accompanied by the managing director of the company, Craig Atkinson. Mr Eyres had said that he was tired but thought he was fit to drive. Mr Atkinson was asleep when the accident happened. Prior to the crash, Mr Eyres was using his mobile phone to send and receive text messages. He was not wearing a seatbelt. The accident occurred on the M1 when Mr Eyres braked suddenly and lost control of the van. He was thrown out of the vehicle and as a result his back was broken and he was left tetraplegic.
Mr Eyres brought an action against his employer, claiming that he was overtired because of the long working hours that were expected of him. The two men were returning to Bradford from Devon so he had driven hundreds of miles, without a proper break, and he argued that tiredness was the cause of the accident.
The High Court found that the cause of the accident was more likely to have been Mr Eyres’ use of his mobile phone rather than his tiredness.
The Court of Appeal, however, found no clear evidence that Mr Eyres was using his phone at the time of the accident. It judged that on the balance of probabilities it was more likely that the accident had been caused by his momentarily falling asleep after being expected to work for so many hours. The company was found negligent for doing nothing to protect him from injury.
The Court did, however, decide that Mr Eyres had been partly responsible (33 per cent) for the accident because he had been driving while tired and was not wearing a seatbelt. An interim award of £400,000 was made and the exact level of the damages will be set later. It is thought likely that Mr Eyres will receive more than £1 million in compensation for his injuries.
Employers who insist on employees working long hours without a break may well put them at increased risk and could find themselves held liable for any resulting stress or injury. In addition, it is now an offence to cause or permit a driver to use a hand-held phone while driving.