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Employers are not legally permitted to delegate their duties to keep their staff safe – even if they are working in challenging environments overseas. In one case which makes that point, the family of an investment banker who died when a helicopter crashed into the Andes have won the right to multi-million-pound compensation.
In the course of his job, the man was on a mission to inspect a hydro-electric plant in Peru when the helicopter went down, costing 11 executives and two crew their lives. It had taken off in deteriorating weather conditions and crashed amidst unforgiving terrain from a height which was right at the top of its operational limits.
In upholding a damages claim brought by his widow and two young children, a judge found that his employer bore legal responsibility for his death. In challenging that ruling before the Court of Appeal, the employer pointed out that it had not arranged the flight and that the crew were fully trained and locally accredited.
The man was a high-level employee, with great autonomy, and he could be expected to decide for himself whether it was safe to get on the flight. The employer also asserted that it was wholly unrealistic, from its base in London, to carry out a risk assessment of events on the other side of the world.
In dismissing the appeal, however, the Court found that the employer had breached the non-delegable duty of care that it owed to ensure the man’s safety and that that had caused his death. The flight through the mountains was anything but routine and was inherently dangerous.
However independent-minded the man may have been, he would have obeyed an instruction from his employer not to get on board. The employer knew, or ought to have known, of the risks involved but had carried out no inquiries at all.
The amount of the family’s compensation has yet to be assessed but, given the man’s stellar earnings, the award is bound to run well into seven figures.