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A solution looking for a problem?

The Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill

The Bill, which was announced in the recent Queen’s Speech, has the intention of limiting liability for negligence if the act was done in an attempt to assist another person and thus reassuring people that they will not be sued when acting for the benefit of society or for their acts of heroism. The court would have to consider the context of a defendant’s actions in cases of negligence before deciding whether they have any liability.

The government is yet to table a draft Bill, but the broad principles are:

  • To allow the court to take into account whether a defendant was acting for the benefit of society and took a responsible approach towards protecting the safety or interest of others.
  • To allow the court to take into account the context of a defendant’s actions if they are sued after they have intervened in an emergency and taken heroic action to assist the claimant without regard to their own safety.

The government says it is taking action to support the millions of people who volunteer and carry-out good deeds every year. The presumption is that some people are put off from participating by concerns about risk and being held liable if something goes wrong. The Bill seeks to counteract the growing perception that individuals risk being sued if they do something for the common good – like leading a school trip, organising a village fete, clearing snow from a path in front of their home or helping in an emergency situation.

From an employers’ perspective, the government are looking to highlight measures that will clarify the law and support employers who do the right thing to protect their employees, if something does go wrong through no fault of their own. The aim is to provide greater protection to small business owners who face challenges from irresponsible employees, even if they have taken a responsible approach to safety training and procedures.

Once drafted, the Bill will have to pass through the Houses of Parliament and is expected to be enacted sometime next year.

Thoughts..
The underling principle of the Bill is similar to that of the recently enacted Enterprise Act (in particular section 69 which removes liability for breach of statutory duty) – a common sense approach to responsibility and negligence, whilst removing a perceived unfair and strict application of breach of duty. It remains to be seen how the Bill would be applied by judges and how they would assess an individual’s act of heroism or an act for the benefit of society. The result may be that the negligent act of an individual, or employer, will result in compensation and that the intention of said individual/employer may not provide a full defence.

Rowlands & Hames would like to thank QBE for the use of this article.

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