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Is the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill a solution for a problem that does not exist?

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The Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill seeks to limit liability for negligence if the act was done in an attempt to assist another person. Below, I consider whether the Bill is creating a solution for a problem that does not exist.

First Announcement

It was announced in the Queen’s Speech 2014, that “Courts must consider the full context of a defendant’s actions in cases of negligence where a defendant has attempted to assist a person, the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill has said. The Bill intends to reassure people that acts of heroism will be considered by the courts in negligence or breach of statutory duty claims.”

When would the Bill matter?

The rationale behind the Bill is to limit an injured party from bringing a civil action against otherwise responsible people, not just limited to employers ‘doing their best’. In a nutshell, it is to prevent an injured party claiming damages against a person who, in essence, means well and inadvertently injures someone in the context of doing something socially useful. For example, a fire man rescuing someone from a burning building and inadvertently knocks an innocent bystander over in the process.

Will this Bill affect the environment of negligence in the UK?

It is hard to envisage this Bill as affecting anything. It appears to be a solution in search of a problem and the government has not discovered a single civil action in the last 10 years which would be decided differently under this proposed legislation.

How would the Bill work in practice?

If passed as intended, judges are to be encouraged to take into account three new factors:

1. whether a person is working ‘for the good of society’ (clause 2); 2. whether someone has acted in a ‘generally responsible way’ (clause 3), and 3. whether someone has acted ‘in an emergency’ (clause 4).

It is yet unclear how a judge is to determine these factors or who has to prove these things The Conservative Home commentary has quoted the the example of someone sweeping snow away from outside their house and then someone falls. However, there have never been any such successful claims and this attempt to address a problem which does not seem to exist is as described before as though someone is looking for a solution to a problem that does not exist.

Are practitioners welcoming this Bill?

Practitioners are greeting this Bill with something approaching weary resignation.

The Bill has not yet been drafted and its prospects of making it through the House of Lords as drafted are slim.

The Bill fails to recognise that people are injured, sometimes very severely as a result of a single negligent act, often of well-meaning and otherwise decent people. If there is no negligence, there is no claim.

If there is provable negligence, the intentions behind the negligent act should play little part in determining whether the injured person is compensated or not.

 

By: Lesley Layton