Apart from the fact the story actually hit the media at the end of March (as far as I can ascertain) and despite the time of release, it’s actually one of ten silly stories that are actually true. Given my time with the Police Federation and my Health & Safety background I simply couldn’t resist commenting on the story (see below).
A police officer is suing a petrol station owner after apparently tripping on a kerb on his property when called to reports of a suspected break-in…(bbc.co.uk)
But despite all the astonishment and mirth generated by the story; should a police officer be allowed (or willing) to make a claim for injuries received whilst at work?
It’s not common, I appreciate that, but the claim has come in and we’ve honoured the officer’s wishes by putting it through to the solicitor…(Paul Ridgway – Chairman, Norfolk Police Federation)
The chief constable of Norfolk Constabulary said he was ”disappointed” that one of his officers is pursuing a claim and obviously, the owner of the petrol station isn’t too happy about the situation either.
Chief moves to reassure public: This type of claim does not represent the approach and attitude of the overwhelming majority of our staff who understand and accept the risks inherent in policing and which they willingly confront to keep the public they serve safe..(Chief Constable Phil Gormley)
With the backlash of adverse public opinion and levels of media interest, it’s hardly surprising the Chief was quick to condemn the actions of his officer. It really doesn’t fit what the public (rightly or wrongly) expect of their police service, does it?
Now, less than 48hrs after the story broke, and was almost instrumental in a social and regular media meltdown, it now transpires the officer intends to withdraw her claim against the garage owner (see here). Speaking to The Mirror, Mr Danny Harle, the officer’s father was quoted as saying…
She’s being treated like a criminal but actually she’s the opposite – a single mum who looks after two daughters as well as working. Kelly wants to drop the claim to prove she is not a money grabber, not because she feels she’s done anything wrong…(Danny Harle)
Irrespective of all the contrived hype and opinionated comment in the media about this story; what about the facts of this incident?
- Since the Police (Health and Safety) Act 1997, all police officers are defined as being ‘employees’ and ‘at work’ while on duty and consequently, they are (rightly) protected, just like all other employees, under current Health & Safety legislation.
- The Police (Health and Safety) Regulations 1999 applies the provisions of all existing health and safety regulations to police officers.
- The officer involved was at work when she was injured. The officer was injured whilst carrying out a task on behalf of her employer. An employee is owed a duty of care by his/her employer.
- The owner of the garage may have a duty of care to anyone entering their premises however; that duty is based around the management of reasonably foreseeable risk and the application of reasonable control measures to prevent any injury being caused i.e sensible (and effective) risk management.
- The injury suffered by the officer has (possibly) caused her financial hardship.
It’s a well-known fact in the world of Health & Safety: slips, trips and falls combined account for ”more than half of all reported major injuries” and “almost a third of over-3-day injuries” to employees at work (source HSE).
The officer couldn’t just write off the accident as an insignificant incident: Due to the circumstances surrounding the officer’s injury, she (and her employer) were (at the time of the accident), legally required to make a report about the accident. This is a provision contained within the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR).
Health & Safety Law: The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 is criminal law aimed at protecting employees and others who may be affected by work activities. Health and safety legislation does not, in general, impose duties upon someone who is not an employer, self-employed or an employee (e.g. the garage owner). It is not possible to sue for damages under the HSW Act itself however; a breach of health and safety regulations may be cited as part of a civil claim for compensation based on a breach of statutory duty.
Duty of Care under Civil Law: Under the common law, all individuals (not just employers) have a duty of care to each other and to others who may be affected by their activities. Where something goes wrong, individuals may, in some cases, sue for damages using the civil law if they are injured as a result of another person’s negligence.
Note: for a negligence claim to succeed, the injured person must show that the defendant had a duty to take reasonable care towards them, and they have suffered the injury through a breach of that duty. The injured person must also show that the type of loss or injury for which damages are being claimed was a foreseeable result of the duty breach.
My personal views and observations:
This incident was an easy bandwagon for the media to climb aboard, especially given the (apparent) April Fools’ opportunity. It was also one which was bound to accelerate at a phenomenal rate, given the propensity for police and/or Elf ‘n’ Safety bashing, so often favoured by our media.
In the majority of articles that I saw (and the subsequent comments); there was hardly any coverage about the legalities involved in the incident. When there was, we were subjected to numerous assumptions of guilt, in relation to both the garage owner and (sadly) on behalf of the officer. Nearly all of that coverage was (a) either intentionally only partly right or simply ill-informed and (b) were presumptions about the (desired) outcomes from a court of law; always assuming that the case actually arrived at court in the first place.
Do I think the officer was right to pursue a claim? No, but I can fully understand her possible difficulties, especially if she had suffered financially because of an injury received at work. But it is always difficult striking a balance between operational and Health & Safety duty.
Do I believe that the garage owner (or her employer) were legally responsible for the officer’s injuries? No, I couldn’t (hopefully) envisage any court of law establishing that either party had breached their statutory duty of care, to an individual or to an employee.
Do I think the garage owner should have better managed the ‘risk’ ? No, as far as I can ascertain, there would have been little if anything he could have done to prevent the officer falling. He might have placed floodlights around all of his garage premises during the night, he could have placed trip hazard warning signs all over the place and he could have painted all of the curbs with black/yellow hazard hatching marks. Would that have been reasonable? Probably not and would certainly have been expensive. Would those actions have fitted within the principles of sensible risk management? Again I would say, probably not.
As one commentator to an article I saw wrote; “why wasn’t she watching where she was going and/or carrying a torch?” Perhaps the only duty of care breached here was the one that the officer owed to herself?
All that being said, when attempting to effectively manage risk one should always remember; preventing accidents usually also requires that you should try to manage human failures. You need to understand the risk management principles; never ignore the inherent human factors involved e.g. possible fatigue, one often experienced by shift workers, as in this case however; the majority of this type of risk management is morstly within the remit of the employer, as opposed to the garage owner.
Fatigue results in slower reactions, reduced ability to process information, memory lapses, absent-mindedness, decreased awareness, lack of attention, underestimation of risk, reduced coordination etc…(Source HSE)
Thankfully some elements of the media machine actually managed a somewhat less damaging and little more satirical viewpoint on the matter…
Were you injured and would like to claim compensation? Get over it! – If you ask me, the story of the policewoman who, called to investigate a suspected burglary, fell over an on-site kerb and is currently suing the owner of the property, certainly adds to the impression we are now a nation drowning in absurd lawsuits brought about by stupid, greedy people with no sense of personal responsibility and, in some instances, a passion for bogus whiplash…(Deborah Ross – The Independent)
Like Ms Ross (and undoubtedly many others), “I am as fearful of all this litigation as anyone” else; the inherent greed in much of our society tends to be the fuel that ignites the misapplication of Health & Safety legislation and guidance. I think her idea about trying to balance it all with a new company called, Stuff Happens So Get Over It, is a great idea and one that has a good chance of rapid expansion… Any chance of a job Deborah?
- She should have carried a torch! Dismay of petrol station owner sued by fall PC (telegraph.co.uk)
- Kerb fall WPC sues 999 caller (thesun.co.uk)
- Policewoman sues man who dialled 999 during ‘burglary’ after tripping over petrol garage kerb (mirror.co.uk)
- Chief disappointed at PC legal claim (bbc.co.uk)
- Report: Police officer drops claim against burglary victim (itv.com)
- British Police (Unfit For) Service! (dickiebo.wordpress.com)
This weekend North Yorkshire Police, along with many members of the wider police family are in mourning. They are reflecting on the sad passing of a colleague and friend who like others, left home to serve his community and our society as a whole but, due to his choice of profession, he will never again return home to his family…
This morning many heard, initially via the undoubted power of social media and latterly via mainstream media avenues, that a North Yorkshire police officer was tragically killed on duty last night.
PC Andrew Bramma, aged 32, was tragically killed when his patrol van hit a tree in West Tanfield, near Ripon, on Saturday 5 January 2013. He was on the way to answer an emergency call. Andrew had recently transferred to North Yorkshire from Greater Manchester…(See Book of condolences – North Yorkshire Police)
Obviously and rightly, the expected words of support and condolence were quickly forthcoming but sadly there were also some disparaging and inappropriate comments across both media platforms. One mainstream media report that I read this morning (Daily Mail) had public comments with a roughly 75% – 25% split (at the time of reading). The higher number were thankfully offering words of support but worryingly, the smaller proportion were not. Some media sources I saw during the day even had sick suggestions that in some way, Andrew actually “got what he deserved” for being a cop?
Everyone is shocked and saddened by the news of his death and I speak for every member of the force in extending our heartfelt sympathies to his family, friends and colleagues…(CC Tim Madgwick)
Many of those people commenting probably won’t ever be able to start to comprehend what Andrew’s family and friends are going through right now. Irrespective of your personal views on policing, he was simply a family man with a wife and two small children going about his daily work on your behalf. But in addition to that, he was also a valued and respected member of the wider police family, a ‘family’ that is shocked, hurt and bereaved at the loss of one of its members, just like any other family. Thankfully one respondent to the article I read in The Mail summed up what many were hopefully thinking.
The usual anti brigade have made visits and posted comments showing their stupidity and ignorance. The sad truth is that the authors of such comments lack the moral fibre and integrity and courage required of all police officers…(Source dailymail.co.uk)
One retired Police Officer and advanced driver commenting on the article also pointed out; many 999 calls are actually made by “people who don’t really need attention that quickly” but the emergency services don’t know that until they actually arrive at the scene of the incident. Rightly he also says “when next you need the police, you will think it’s an emergency and if they don’t get there quickly enough you will criticise them for not being there.”
It’s one of those factors of policing that every officer knows. But still the majority do their job with integrity and professionalism, to the best of their ability. Anyone who truly serves the public (as opposed to themself) fully understands that they will always ’damned if they do and damned if they don’t’ by an element of our society.
Whatever your warped perception of policing in the UK (mostly thanks to our media methodology), have some bloody respect for the grief and pain of Andrew’s family. If you happen to have some valid complaint about the police service you receive, at least have the common decency to voice it through the appropriate official channels. Any uneducated cowardly muppet with a personal axe to grind can vent their sick spleen on social media – Put up or shut up!
Andrew was simply serving his community and I thank him for that. He was also playing his part in making our society a better place for us all to live; what did you do today to make us feel proud?
Rest in Peace Brother!
- Police officer killed answering 999 call was father of two (telegraph.co.uk)
- Police officer killed in crash (bbc.co.uk)
- Police Death: Tributes To Officer Killed In Crash – Sky News (news.sky.com)
- VIDEO: Tributes to Pc Andrew Bramma (itv.com)
For those who have ever suffered in the witness box under the hands of some smart arse defence team lawyer, this piece was circulating via social media during the week…
Police officers (and any prosecution witnesses for that mattter) often get a hard time when they have to testify in court, If you’re ever in that possition you might wish you could have been as sharp as this American policeman.
The officer was being cross-examined by a defence attorney during a felony trial and the lawyer was trying to undermine the police officer’s credibility…
Q: ‘Officer — did you see my client fleeing the scene?’
A: ‘No sir. But I subsequently observed a person matching the description of the offender, running several blocks away.’
Q: ‘Officer, who provided this description?’
A: ‘The officer who responded to the scene.’
Q: ‘A fellow officer provided the description of this so-called offender. Do you trust your fellow officers?’
A: ‘Yes, sir. With my life.’
Q: ‘With your life? Let me ask you this then officer. Do you have a room where you change your clothes in preparation for your daily duties?’
A: ‘Yes sir, we do!’
Q: ‘And do you have a locker in the room?’
A: ‘Yes, sir, I do.’
Q: ‘And do you have a lock on your locker?’
A: ‘Yes, sir.’
Q: ‘Now, why is it, officer, if you trust your fellow officers with your life, you find it necessary to lock your locker in a room you share with these same officers?’
A: ‘You see, sir, we share the building with the court complex, and sometimes lawyers have been known to walk through that room.’
The courtroom EXPLODED with laughter, and a prompt recess was called. The officer on the stand has been nominated for this year’s ‘Best Comeback’ line — perhaps he’ll win!