Fleet News

Van crash a fleet safety warning

The case of a company that encouraged a culture of long hours and was found liable for a road accident in which one of its workers was paralysed should act as a warning to fleets that fail to take road safety seriously.

Michael Eyres was flung from his van after momentarily falling asleep at the wheel and can now sue the company where he worked as a kitchen fitter for damages expected to exceed £1 million.

His final award will be reduced by 33% because of his own contributory negligence in not wearing a seatbelt and knowing he was at risk of falling asleep after working for 19 hours.

But Lord Justice Ward, who gave the ruling of the Court of Appeal, said Mr Eyres, who was 20 at the time of the accident on the M1 in 2004, was ‘in that predicament because his employers had put him there’.

Next to Mr Eyres, fast asleep in the van was Craig Atkinson, the 28-year-old managing director of Bradford-based Atkinsons Kitchens and Bedrooms.

The judge said: ‘Mr Atkinson’s saying ‘eating’s cheating’ and ‘you can sleep when you’re dead’ summed up the company’s philosophy.’

Roger Bibbings, occupational safety adviser at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said: ‘This case is a tragic reminder to employers of the need to manage occupational road risk.

'Companies need to be sure that their employees are in a fit condition to drive and have had adequate quality sleep before getting behind the wheel.’

Lord Justice Ward and two other appeal judges overturned a High Court ruling that Mr Eyres was to blame for the accident because he was using a mobile telephone. He said that on the balance of probability the cause of the accident was the driver falling asleep.

On the day of the accident, Mr Eyres had arrived at work at 3.30am after just four and a half hours’ sleep when he set off with Mr Atkinson to fit a kitchen in Swindon, Wiltshire, 111 miles away.

The pair shared the driving and work, which was finished at 2.30pm when Mr Atkinson said they had another job in Sidmouth, Devon, 122 miles away.

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