Litigation Culture

Here's a thing – when there is an ambulance news story I often get emails from people asking if I've seen it. I've yet to see as many people email me over a story as this one. (And I like getting these sorts of emails, as sometimes I'll have missed the story).

An elderly couple say they are distressed as an ambulance worker wants to sue them after falling during a call to their Lincolnshire home.

The technician fell over on 82-year-old Joan Boardman's driveway in Louth as he went to fetch a stretcher.

The Boardmans have now received a letter from his solicitors saying he is seeking damages for personal injury.

Now the important thing is that I don't know any details of this case – so anything that I have to say on the subject is pretty much guesswork and supposition.

The first thing that I would suggest that if the ambulance worker suffered an injury, he would be off work on full pay for quite some time (I think it's six months down here in the LAS).

Secondly – I would suggest that if he had injured himself in a place of work, say a factory, then yes – health and safety law applies. I don't think, and I am certainly no lawyer, that health and safety law doesn't apply to homeowners in their own home. There isn't, as far as I know, any legislation saying that a path on private property has to be well lit.

Thirdly – We work in inherently difficult situations, lighting is often poor, sometimes there is a lot of rubbish around the place we work and occasionally there are some everyday hazards, like loose carpeting and the like. Accidents sometimes happen and falling over is often no-ones fault but your own.

I would also disagree with the comment from the Unison person who said,

“I can understand people finding it hard to believe but of course if someone is injured during work then somebody has got to take liability.”

Now a disclaimer – I don't like Unison – but even with that said, has there ever been a dafter thing said? We don't live in a perfectly predictable world and sometimes things go wrong for no reason apart from blind chance. Actually without that randomness of life my work would be a lot more boring.

Sometimes I trip over my own feet – should I try to sue the maker of my boots? Or should I sue my mum for giving me 'clumsy' genes?

It all sounds incredibly silly to me. I'd sue a business if I went up on their catwalk and it collapsed, and I'd sue someone who assaulted me when I'd been sent to help them, but to sue because I fell over on their path is just plain wrong in my eyes.

Of course if a lawyer wants to point out how everything I've written here is wrong, they are welcome to leave a comment.

Second disclaimer – if the above makes no sense, my apologies. I've just got in from a long twelve hour shift and I'm utterly shattered – especially as we got a late job out of our area.

30 thoughts on “Litigation Culture”

  1. It's almost as bad as this case…

    Fortunatley he lost the case

    I'm sure the paramedic would get sick pay for at least a month which is the minimum on Agenda for Change. I think it takes 5 years before you're entitled to the full 6 months on full then 6 months on half pay.

    What about paramedics out in rural areas? I'm sure they have to contend with worse conditions than a dark path. When I broke my leg falling from a horse they had to walk about a mile over rough ground to get to me. Thankfully they decided not to carry me a mile over rough ground and got the chopper to pick me up.

  2. Unfortunately with all these spectrum things, it's easy to see the extremes of the scale but less easy to say where the line should be drawn.If a homeowner has dug a big pit with spikes in it across their garden path and fails to warn legitimate visitors to their home about it, then yes, it's the homeowner's fault when someone going about their lawful business injures themselves in it. However the odds of something being that clear-cut are really, really slim.

    Trouble is that things like cracks in the driveway and security lighting, often it isn't a case of “can't be bothered to sort it out” so much as “can't afford to get it sorted out” or “don't have the capacity to sort it out”, or maybe “have other much more important things to sort out first”. Even if you're in a confirmed vulnerable adult/low income situation, and you manage to fight and shout enough to get some kind of grant to have it sorted out, generally (at least where I used to live) the council would contract-out such work to the lowest bidder, who is unlikely to make the best job of repairs and will sometimes leave the house in a worse state than it was in originally.

  3. Sick time is dependent on length of service, the max is 6 months full pay, 6 months half pay.yes you have to ensure the safety of visitors to your property, which they should have indemnity through their house insurance

  4. It's the British 'something for nothing' culture that is so endemic in society.This reminds me of the taxi driver of killed a small boy in a road accident, then sued the family for stress – and won.There are those who don't see the distress their actions cause others, just the big fat cheque at the end.To quote Gordon Gecco: 'Greed is good.'

  5. I'm fairly sure (obviously only with the same limited facts as yourself) that Elf'n'Safety will have nothing to do with this claim. Otherwise, the Tech would be sueing EMAS for not providing a safe working practice. Perhaps under H&S law you should be provided with a torch permanently attached to your uniform and always on to deal with such eventualities? No, I didn't think so….What it must be is a claim under the “Occupiers Liability Acts”. Nice bit of legislation – means that your land has to be safe for anyone that comes onto your property. Nothing wrong with that. But…

    It means *anyone* that comes onto your property. Including, under the second of two acts, trespassers. Yes, you owe a duty of care to anyone that burgles your house.

    Who knows, if the couple has the most uneven drive in Western Europe – there probably is a case that they should have been aware of this and provided permanent lighting to their 'lawful visitors'. I wouldn't have any qualms about making such a case myself.

    And “GuestBlogger” is right – insurers will probably pay out any damages, so the direct consequence the Boardmans will be limited.

    All of that said, I agree, why can't people look where they're going instead of needing to sue people for falling over their own feet?

  6. Asp is correct that the Occupier's Liability Act applies here. I recently repaired the dodgy steps and path leading up to my front door in case anyone tripped and hurt themselves. I have to say, I think this is entirely reasonable – if I allow people on to my property (postman, utility workers, neighbours etc) then why shouldn't I have to ensure that they are safe? I was also worried that my insurance policy *wouldn't* pay out if anyone made a claim – the insurance company might have argued that I knew about the dodgy steps and should have ensured they were safe. The ambulance worker in question may be able to get full pay while he is off work, but he will still be in pain while off work – it's not like he's on holiday …

  7. Also, if he does actually win the case, he will also have to make a claim to pay back any sick pay that his employer has already paid. I'm surprised his trust isn't actively encouraging his legal action in the first place.

  8. Hi TomI do hope though that somebody reading the article doesnt think twice about calling an ambulance in case they got sued as well!

    Take care


  9. The guy from Unison is quite right: in this case the person who has to take responsibility is the tech who fell over. Keep your eyes open, mate it's not difficult, & if you didn't have a torch, whose fault is that

  10. sadly it seems to never be the people who deserve this treatment who get it. It seems that the folk who like to punch NHS staff get away scott free (in most cases) yet the nice old folk with the dodgy security light get sued.

  11. One of the problems – on the other side of the coin – is that ambulance staff are frequently the subject of complaints and litigation from members of the public, patients and their families and – incredibly – people who just happen to take offence for no obvious reason. They all see “A Nice Bit Of Compo” in front of their eyes, courtesy of the American litigation culture which we now have over here.As a paramedic friend put it last year, when she was the subject of a ludicrous complaint from a patients' family: “God Knows what I did – I can only imagine that I forgot to compliment them on the curtains and soft furnishings.”

  12. Somehow I think I would have expected ambulance trust's insurers to negotiate the claim with the householders insurers, if that was appropriate; are you not agents for the ambulance trust when attending a call and therefore insured by them?

  13. Well I learn something every day. (And I did say that I'm spectacularly unlearned in the law).I'll have to try this at the next crack den, or home of a mentally ill person I go to when I trip over *something*.

    So a question – The gasman comes to my house and while walking upstairs the bulb goes. He trips and falls on his face – am I still liable?

    And how much will he get considering I don't have home insurance?

    Seems that this is one of the letter of the law Vs. Spirit of the law scenarios.

    Thanks for the comments.

    (And how many people might be making dodgy claims now this has hit the news)

  14. Yep. The only time I've had a complaint against me (so far…crosses fingers…) is when some 'patient' slapped me and I told him that he slaps like a girl.*Sigh*

  15. Of course homeowners are responsible for ensuring their home is safe for visitors. (Even burglars have successfully sued householders after becoming injured during a break-in for goodness sake!) Imagine that this ambulance chap had responded to the 999 call, and while he was an the couple's house a dangerously unsafe wall had collapsed and fallen on him – a wall which the couple knew was unsafe but had not bothered to fix – causing serious injuries (time off work, big medical bills, perhaps permanent injuries…). I don't think there would be much debate in such a case: the couple's negligence led to the injury to the unsuspecting ambulance chap.Admittedly the flickering light / falling over case is much more of a grey area. Did the couple know the light was flickering? Did they know it was a danger? Was the flickering light totally responsible for the fall? What injuries did the guy sustain? Without details we really cannot say categorically whether it was “right” of him to sue, or whether he should win his case. Knowing the press, many facts will have been left out, and others embellished, so it's entirely possible that this guy is not being unreasonable.

    Re you gasman scenario, Tom, I'd have thought it comes down to the nature of the light fault. If there was a persistent fault with the light over the stairs, and you failed to fix it or to warn your visitor of the problem, then you've not taken adequate care to ensure his safety. If the bulb just went, as bulbs occasionally do, without warning, then that is as much of a surprise to you as it is to the gasman, and the gasman would know that there is a small risk the bulb could blow, so that's not something you would be expected to take responsibility for. Having said that, if it was a busy stairway (probably not in a private house) then I suppose it could be argued that there ought to be a backup system to light the stairs in case of a bulb blowing, or power cut, etc.

  16. You need to know all the facts before commenting really. The headlines never give a true picture.Last weeks headline was “Man sues M&S (department store) for 300K for slipping on grape”. The next days (much smaller) article was man loses case and has to pay M&S 15K costs.The judge will have to weigh up how liable the defendant is, how much contributory negligence there was by the claimant and the extent of the 'loss'. In UK law there are no punitive damages so you can only claim for loss of earnings, suffering etc. If the ambulance worker is off sick on full pay then his 'loss' is mostly missed overtime and suffering. Probably a few K. If the injury is such that he never works again then it will be much more.The news article I read flitted between this person being a paramedic, a technician and an ambulance worker. If they can't get that right, what else have they got wrong.

  17. Few weeks ago went to a child vs car. the driver of the car was asking the father of the chid fo money for damage to the car before we had even got the child on the motor!This american style litigation culture we are developing here is one of the reasons why we are so busy. Places like schools and care homes call us for stuff they should be able to easily deal with because they are frightened of getting sued.

  18. I read about this in yesterday's paper and I was disgusted! What ever happened to taking responsiblity for your own actions?I read that the medic had been running and lost his balance………..I don't know about you but at the training college we got taught that no matter how loud the screams or paniced the people you never run at a job, you always walk so that you can dynamically risk assess everything as you go.

    What does this medic honestly hope to achieve? The money won't matter, hopefully someone will bring him to his senses before it goes through.

  19. Hm. Sad, but maybe with a grain of sense in it. Every day we struggle with icy driveways, badly lit steps and houses without names&numbers. This, at least, may bring attention to these problems. We are only humans, but are expected to climb heaps of snow because people can't be bothered to shovel it off. They must think we are superheroes that can fly or something.

  20. It may not actually be the ambulance worker who is bringing the lawsuit: if he's claimed for an injury via an insurance company, it will be the insurers suing on his behalf to get the cash they've paid out.

  21. As long as you were not negligent, you would not have a problem. If the bulb had not been working for some time, it might be a different matter.

  22. Lucky folks up to 3 years ago we had no sick pay now we have 10 days paid as a qualified VN but you have to have been at the practice and qualified for over a year. Our student VN's, receptionists and auxillarys still get noting. Vets have unlimited sick pay days.This causes people to work when they shouldn't simply because they can not afford days off.

    It varys at different owned practices around the country but very often there is no sick pay for any staff members other than stat.

    We are also in a job with a high risk factor but it is just looked on as “perks of the job” (not) and we live with it.

  23. But if I was off sick due to a car accident that was someone elses fault. My employer would want to claim back the wages they pay in sick pay from the insurance company.

  24. I am a bit concerned about this Trust stating that there employees are only insured under Trust policies whilst they are working in the back of thier motor. So what happens if you are injured whilst treating someone who is not covered by Motor Insurance, is away from thier place of residence so not covered by Home or Household Insurance.Also, I believe that if this Ambo bloke won his case then his employees would be entitled to claim back, from any financial settlement his legal bods may secure, any sick pay they had paid him while he was recovering and possibly the cost of covering his shifts whilst he was off sick. So basically his wages and those of the person filling his shoes.

    Perhaps, if he wins his case I should put in a claim for the two prolapsed disc operations I've had against all the people I've carried downstairs over the last >20 years.

    It wont happen, I look on it as an occupational hazard, and one of the less fortunate 'perks of the job'.

  25. I believe that under civil law in England and Wales, you have a legal duty of care towards any visitors to your property (including trespassers). If the owners of this property were shown to be unreasonably negligent about the upkeep of the approach to their house, they could indeed be liable.

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