Brumder v Motornet Service and Repairs Ltd
Court of Appeal
Citations:  EWCA Civ 195;  1 WLR 2783;  3 All ER 412;  BCC 381;  2 BCLC 58;  ICR 1069;  PIQR P13.
The claimant was the sole shareholder and director of the defendant company. The defendant serviced vehicles for MOT inspections. This involved raising the vehicles on a hydraulic ramp in the defendant’s workshop. The claimant lost a finger trying to climb down from the ramp after one of its compressor mechanisms failed. He sued the defendant for breach of statutory duty under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. That duty imposed strict liability for the safety of work equipment.
The defendant argued that the only reason it was in breach was that the claimant had not fulfilled its own duties as director to enable it to comply with those obligations. At trial, the defendant was held liable but a 100% reduction was made for contributory negligence. Both sides appealed.
- When a company can only comply with legal obligations through a sole director or shareholder, can that individual sue for breach of those obligations?
- Is the court entitled to make a 100% reduction for contributory negligence?
The Court of Appeal held in favour of the defendant. The claimant could not be permitted to recover for his own failings and breaches of duty in circumstances where he was the only person through which the defendant could fulfil its own duties.
This Case is Authority For…
There is a defence to strict liability statutory claims where the sole reason the defendant is in breach is because of an act or omission of the claimant. In addition:
- The defence only applies where the defendant has done everything in its power to ensure compliance with the duty. The fault must be solely with the claimant;
- The defence is very likely to be established where the claimant is a sole director and is in breach of their duties to the company;
- It is not likely to be established where the claimant is not in breach of their duties to the company.
Since the defendant was not liable, there was no need to consider the contributory liability point. However, the Court repeatedly stated (obiter) that it was ‘wrong in principle’ to make a 100% reduction for contributory negligence.