Corporate Manslaughter

This was a sad case where an employee who was asked to work in a part of a factory where he did not usually work was killed by a piece of equipment that he was not familiar with. He was doing a job that he had not been trained to do.

In essence, he was asked to work in the wrong place at the wrong time without having had any training or experience of working there.

Central to it was the trauma and effect that the death had on the company and its workforce – which called into question the safety procedures of the company.

There were 4 different aspects to consider:-

  • the police / HSE investigation
  • the inquest (that lasted for 3 days with a jury)
  • the subsequent Health & Safety prosecution
  • a claim for damages under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976

The threat of a criminal prosecution hung over the company and its directors for approximately 3 years. Any prosecution for corporate manslaughter would have resulted in a substantial fine for the company and a possible term of imprisonment for one or more of its directors.

During this period, senior management in the company had to contend with:-

  • the initial trauma and after-math of the employee’s death
  • the investigation and its effect on the workplace
  • a “dawn raid” when police officers came to search the company’s premises for documents and evidence
  • the unfamiliar aspects of criminal proceedings and proceedings in the Coroner’s Court
  • a personal injury claim and a Health & Safety prosecution (involving proceedings in the Magistrates’ Court and ultimately, in the Crown Court)
  • the impact (mental and emotional) of all this on the directors for a lengthy period of time before the case came to trial

No two investigations are ever the same – but the experience that we have within the team to handle this type of case will ensure that our clients have the best possible advice at every stage of the investigation and proceedings as they develop. If we need to instruct and work with experts (e.g. on engineering aspects) or Barristers to represent you in Court, we will advise you on the people that can provide the best results.

About the authors

Andrew Spooner Consultant

Andrew specialises in commercial disputes including complex claims for breach of contract and negligence – particularly in the manufacturing and engineering industries. He has acted in shareholder disputes and other claims arising out of corporate transactions and partnership disputes, for solicitors, doctors, surveyors, accountants and farmers. He has particular expertise in defending and obtaining injunctions involving senior employees (involving breaches of covenant and issues of confidentiality). He has successfully obtained and supervised Search & Seizure Orders. He also acts in proceedings brought by regulatory bodies including the Health & Safety Executive, Trading Standards and Environment Agency.

Tariva Thomas Associate

Tariva is a member of the Tax and Financial Services Litigation team dealing with disputes relating to investments, tax avoidance schemes and pensions. Tariva advises corporates, individuals, financial institutions and FCA regulated firms.