Shield on liability for subcontractor's worker holds


Companies that use subcontractors have had their positions bolstered in Queensland after a recent court case, according to a partner at Gadens Lawyers. <br /><br /> Though the case, Vella's Plant Hire Pty Ltd v Mistranch Pty Ltd & Ors, relates to an excavation incident and though the circumstances of the case were in the principal contractor’s favour, David Slatyer of Gadens says the common law principle involved had been strengthened by the Supreme Court of Queensland finding.

By Rob McKay | April 11, 2012

Companies that use subcontractors have had their positions bolstered in Queensland after a recent court case, according to a partner at Gadens Lawyers.

Though the case, Vella's Plant Hire Pty Ltd v Mistranch Pty Ltd & Ors, relates to an excavation incident and though the circumstances of the case were in the principal contractor’s favour, David Slatyer of Gadens says the common law principle involved had been strengthened by the Supreme Court of Queensland finding.

This was that the principal contractor owed no duty of care to subcontractor’s employee, in the circumstances of the case.

"You can’t say, as a matter of principle, that a principal contractor never owes a duty of care in relation to the personal safety of someone who is not their employee," Slatyer says.

"But the injury was taken to have occurred in the system of work that the subcontractor was engaged to perform."

He believes the same principles would apply in the road-haulage sphere.

He uses the hypothetical example of a subcontractor’s driver being injured at a warehouse.

The driver may have a case against his direct employer or the warehouse occupier.

"Beyond that, there should not be any particular liability," Slatyer says.

"That doesn’t mean there won’t be a claim . . . there will always be a net cast fairly wide . . . that’s what happened in Vella."

The Supreme Court of Queensland found that Vella's, which had been sued successfully by the injured plant operator, could not seek contributions from the principal contractor because the worker was not the principal contractor’s employee.

In an examination of the case, called Principal contractor owed no duty of care to subcontractor's employee Vella's Plant Hire Pty Ltd v Mistranch Pty Ltd & Ors [2012] QSC 77, Slatyer and colleague Peter Coggins, emphasise that the court was keen to ensure that principal contractor did not have the same duty as the employer "simply by virtue of the contractual relationship".

In the Vella's case, it was also crucial that the company was undertaking work that was its specialty but which the principal contractor was not expert in.

In this, the judge had used the precedents stemming from two cases: Stevens v Brodribb Sawmilling Co Pty Ltd and Leighton Contractors Pty Ltd v Fox.

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