Landmark damages award for quad bike rider rendered quadriplegic13 October 2016 | Employer's Liability
- Whether employer liable for allowing employee to use defective quad bike without training and without wearing a helmet.
The defendants, Mr and Mrs Bowden, owned and operated a dairy farm on King Island. They employed the plaintiff, a 24 year old British backpacker.
On 30 December 2011 the plaintiff was instructed by the dairy manager to herd some of the dairy cattle using a quad bike. A short time later the dairy manager saw the quad bike the plaintiff had been riding sitting in the middle of the paddock. When he went to investigate he saw the plaintiff lying beside the quad bike. She had obviously suffered a severe head injury. The plaintiff was rendered quadriplegic and will require constant care.
The quad bike had a partially inflated tyre and defective rear brakes. The plaintiff did not receive any training on how to safely ride the quad bike. The defendants did not require the plaintiff to wear a safety helmet.
The Decision at Trial
The court was satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the plaintiff lost control of the bike after encountering a drain in the paddock, and that she suffered her injuries as a result of impacting the bike and/or the ground, or both.
The court held that the defendants breached their duty of care to the plaintiff because it was reasonably foreseeable that a risk of injury to the plaintiff was created by not repairing the defects in the quad bike, failing to train the plaintiff and by not requiring the plaintiff to wear a safety helmet. Repairing the quad bike, training the plaintiff and providing her with a safety helmet were all reasonably practicable measures. The ineffective rear brakes and lack of training caused the plaintiff to lose control of the quad bike. The failure to provide a safety helmet caused or materially contributed to the plaintiff’s brain injuries.
The plaintiff was held to not have been contributorily negligent. Her failure to wear a helmet was the result of inadequate training. The plaintiff was not riding at an excessive speed and to the extent that speed contributed to the plaintiff losing control, this could again be explained by the lack of training she had received.
The plaintiff who was essentially in a vegetative state following the accident, was awarded ₤6,970,426.00 (approximately AU $12 million). Despite not having complete insight into the extent of her injuries, general damages were assessed at £250,000 (AU $400,000). The court rejected the defendants’ argument that it was unreasonable for the plaintiff not to utilise the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) for her future care needs and that they were entitled to a credit for the value of any NHS treatment or services she was entitled to receive. This argument was held to be inconsistent with the 'tortfeasor pays' principle.
Implications For You
This decision is a good example of how an employer’s failure to properly maintain equipment used by employees, and/ or provide appropriate training and safety equipment can give rise to a significant award of compensation. Employers ought exercise reasonable care and appropriate risk management to avoid such incidents.