UK Case: Homeowner Not Liable for Worker’s Injuries

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In Canada, the OHS laws aren’t the only source of protection for workers. For example, a homeowner may be liable under negligence or occupiers’ liability laws for workers who get injured on their property. Those laws require a homeowner to take reasonable care, under the circumstances, to ensure the  health and safety of the people on their property, such as those they hire to perform work.

But a British court recently ruled that homeowners in the UK are not responsible for the safety of workmen on their property. The Court of Appeal threw out a Polish builder’s claim for compensation from a woman who refused to let him walk on her pristine white carpets. Here’s a look at that case.

Worker Falls from Ladder

Tomasz Kmiecic suffered “life changing” injuries when he fell from a ladder while working at a house in Hampstead, north London. He shattered his right elbow and injured his hip and thigh in the June 2006 incident, as he tried to fix a leaky garage roof. He was left permanently disabled and can never work again as a carpenter and general builder.

The firm that contracted him didn’t have insurance and so Kmiecic sued Nadia Isaacs, the homeowner. She’d prevented him from taking the safest route through her son’s bedroom window because she didn’t want him tramping on her carpets. Instead, she gave him the ladder.

Kmiecic lost the case but was granted leave to appeal. However, a three-judge panel ruled that “common sense had prevailed” and dismissed his appeal. The panel ruled that it was the duty of employers—not homeowners—to ensure the safety of their workers.

The panel also cleared Isaacs of all blame and ruled that the real culprit was the firm for which Kmiecic worked, which “may have deserved the epithet of a ‘cowboy’ operator.” They described Isaacs as “a person of exacting standards” who’d been entitled to object to workmen tramping through the house.

The worker then took the case to the Court of Appeal, arguing that Isaacs assumed “control” of the building work when she banned him from using the only safe access to the garage roof through the bedroom window. His lawyer accused Isaacs of breaching workplace safety regulations and said she may have been “better advised to go out shopping or away on holiday,” to avoid giving instructions to the workers.

However, the Appeal Court panel said the worker didn’t come under Isaacs’ control merely because she forbade him access to her garage roof through her son’s bedroom. “The safety of temporary construction sites is better ensured by focusing the responsibility on employers and others who are equipped to assess how that would be best achieved,” it concluded.