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Negligent contractors liable for damages despite client's failings

Posted: 18th April 2013   In: Dispute Resolution

A contractor has been found liable for the damage caused by a factory fire even though the client was partly responsible for what happened.

The contractor had been hired to refurbish a factory roof. This required providing a suspended scaffold cage which contained gas-powered heaters.

Part way through the contract a fire broke out causing extensive damage to the factory. The evidence indicated that the fire had been started when one of the factory’s employees activated the gas heaters while carrying out maintenance work.

This led to a dispute over who was responsible for the damage: the contractor who supplied the heaters or the factory whose employee flicked the switch?

The court heard evidence that the heaters had not been routinely isolated during the course of the works. This was because of confusion between the two parties. The contractor’s site manager assumed that factory staff would isolate them. However, the factory’s engineering manager had not read the contractor’s statement method and assumed he would be informed if anything needed to be done.

The court held that both parties were in breach of contract. However, the major failure was that of the contractor because it had failed to take all precautions within its power and failed to fulfil its obligation to continuously inspect the work.

These failings were so serious that they would over-ride any defence of contributory negligence on behalf of the factory owners.

Please contact Deborah Rupping if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article.