Fleet News

Guest opinion: Case gives a taste of what’s to come

THE case of Girbash v Main Line decided by the Court of Appeal earlier this year discussed the liability of a garage which had allegedly carried out a defective brake service on a white van.

The case highlighted the importance of fleet managers and servicing and maintenance outlets keeping documented audit trails on work done – or, more importantly in the Girbash case, not done.

I speculated at the time that with the health and safety practices of the fleet and motor industries under the microscope, this would be the first of many decisions affecting the industry.

The Court of Appeal has again had to wrestle with this area but this time in a case involving the responsibilities of an occupational driver, his employer and a company involved in maintaining a vehicle.

In the case of Exel Logistics Ltd and 1) Wayne Curran 2) Land Rover (UK) and Paul Stimpson, the court determined the civil liability of all parties and ruled that the employer and the maintenance company should bear 50% each of the liability for injuries caused to a passenger in a road traffic accident.

Wayne Curran was an employee of Land Rover (UK), who permitted him to use one of the company’s Defenders. Curran was carrying a number of passengers, including Paul Stimpson, when the vehicle was involved in a roll-over accident on the M6. The court found that the vehicle appeared to be well maintained. Exel Logistics had previously assembled the front offside wheel and tyre.

It was subsequently established that the two rear tyres were under-inflated and the front offside tyre had deflated.

Curran accepted that he had a duty to check the vehicle’s tyre pressures before setting off, but claimed that as the vehicle was immaculately maintained by his employer this excused him.

The vehicle was a 12-seat Defender, owned by Land Rover and maintained by one of its employees. It was found as a fact that the rear tyres were at a reduced pressure of 29 psi, as opposed to 48 psi. The effect of this, according to experts, would be for the vehicle to ‘snake’ or ‘fish-tail’.

It was argued that, in these circumstances, Land Rover should have been aware of the dangers posed by under-inflated tyres and, as a result, should bear the greatest share of responsibility.

Having said this, the rear tyres themselves were not the sole case of the accident.

Exel had assembled the off-side wheel and tyre. It was found that during this process dirt and grit had found its way between the inner tube and the tyre-casing. The court accepted that this had resulted in a split in the inner tube and a partial deflation of the offside tyre just before the accident. The court also accepted that, had the tyre deflation occurred in isolation, there was a chance that Curran might have been able to bring the vehicle to a halt. It was the interaction with the under-inflated rear tyres which lead to the fish-tailing and subsequent roll-over.

The court absolved Curran from any blame and found both Land Rover and Exel 50% responsible for Stimpson’s injuries. This is the most significant case thus far in the development of corporate responsibility for occupational drivers. So how can fleet managers minimise this risk?

  • If you believe the employee has a responsibility to look after a vehicle, think again. If you require the employee to check safety systems, document this and, most of all, train the employee in how to carry out the checks and monitor that they do so.
  • If the employee is using his or her own vehicle, implement a reasonable system to ensure the vehicle is properly maintained.
  • Do not forget that if the employee is acting in the course of their employment, the fleet may still ultimately be held responsible for the employee’s negligence by virtue of vicarious liability, whoever owns the vehicle.
  • Put in place a reasonable system for monitoring your internal systems if you maintain vehicles yourself and your external contractors if vehicles are maintained externally.
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