The Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling has announced plans to introduce new legislation which he claims will provide greater protection from claims of negligence to those acting in the ‘common good’. It also seeks to protect responsible small business owners from claims against them by their employees.
If the legislation proposed under the ‘Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill’ is passed, the law will require courts to consider the context of an incident when a claim for negligence is brought by an individual: was someone doing a good deed?; did someone take care when organising an event?; was someone acting in an emergency?
“All too often people who are doing the right thing in our society feel constrained by the fear that they are the ones who will end up facing a lawsuit for negligence”, said Mr Grayling. “The best way to describe the proposed bill is that it will serve as a signpost from parliament to the courts,” he continued. “It will set out very simple protections for those people who act in the interests of society, responsibly or heroically.”
“I don’t want us to be a society where people feel that they can’t do the right thing for fear of breaking regulations or becoming liable if something goes wrong. I don’t want us to be a society where a responsible employer gets the blame for someone doing something stupid. I want a society where common sense is the order of the day, and I believe this measure will help us get there,” said Grayling.
Lee Hart, Partner in Clarke Willmott’s personal injury team takes issue with the perception that this is a real issue in this country, and sees it as yet another attempt to perpetuate the myth of a ‘compensation culture’.
“The Government’s own research has shown that the perceived ‘compensation culture’ is a myth. Workplace claims have halved in the last 10 years” he said.
“Is this really a victory for common sense as Chris Grayling suggests it will be? Civil claims for compensation can only succeed where there has been negligence. The law already requires the circumstances of each case to be considered, including whether someone was acting responsibly or in an emergency situation. Are people who act ‘in the common good’ therefore to be immune from action even though they have been reckless or negligent in causing injury to another?” he added.
The Compensation Act 2006 already provides a degree of protection and serves to reassure members of the public. The Act stipulates that where it is alleged that someone has been negligent or in breach of a statutory duty, courts have to take into account whether that person was undertaking a ‘desirable activity’, or if by finding against them would discourage people from undertaking similar desirable activities.
It is difficult to see how the proposed Bill will add to the existing legislation and it raises interesting insight into the Government’s intent on trying to protect the negligent rather than the innocent injured victim.