Grant McGeachy v Chivas Brothers Limited (2015)

This is an employer's liability action in which one of our partners, successfully defended a claim for Chivas Brothers Limited. Furthermore, he succeeded in obtaining an award of expenses against the pursuer. In short, the court held that the pursuer's evidence was neither credible nor reliable, that he had failed to establish fault, and that the defenders had taken reasonable steps to reduce the possibility of injury to the lowest level.

The pursuer was initially employed via an employment agency as a warehouse operative and became a permanent employee at the defenders' Willowbank site in early 2013. The Willowbank site receives casks of whisky for maturation. There are two means by which the whisky is stored during the maturation process – namely placed into racking systems in the warehouses or stored on pallets. Notably, the latter option eliminates manual handling. The racking system referred to is known in the industry as a 'stow', and the pursuer alleged that the defenders failed to provide training on how to manoeuvre a cask which had become stuck or jammed, in the stow. He claimed that in his attempts to release a trapped barrel in August 2013, he sustained an injury to his back.

Under cross-examination, the pursuer gave evidence to the effect that he was trained by the defenders in how to move and stack barrels, but not specifically in relation to stows. Both the defenders and the pursuer were in agreement that the most important factor was whether the pursuer was to be accepted in his description of the mechanism of the accident.

The sheriff, refused to accept the pursuer's evidence on the basis that he had provided no less than three differing versions of the accident; in the accident report, on record and in his evidence. The sheriff also considered that the defenders had met the relevant standards in terms of assessment of manual handling operations. She found that they had identified the risk, had produced safe systems of work and had supplemented that by providing training to employees in relation to manual handling tasks.

This judgement serves as a pertinent reminder that the success of a pursuer's claim ultimately relies upon his evidence in court. A pursuer may, prima facie, have a strong case, but should his evidence be inconsistent then his case ultimately must fail. A difficulty in this for defenders' agents is that a full evidential hearing is usually the first, and indeed, the only point at which they can directly question the pursuer. Our thorough approach to investigations was one way to overcome this obstacle. At an early stage, he ascertained from the defenders that the pursuer's conduct as an employee had been less than exemplary and this gave him an important insight into his character. This insight was ultimately utilised to its full potential and resulted in an satisfying victory for the insured and the insurers.