In a recent case at the High Court, Jamie Yates -v- National Trust a tree surgeon claimed that the National Trust owed him a duty of care, after he fell from a tree suffering serious injury at Morden Hall Park.

Jamie Yates, at age 22 together with two other colleagues had been instructed by their boss, Joe Jackman to fell a horse chestnut tree on the National Trust’s property. On 4 December 2009, Mr Yates climbed the tree using a rope and harness and was cutting off the branches with a chain saw, when he fell almost 50 feet to the ground.  Mr Yates had no memory of the accident and it was not clear what caused him to fall as his colleagues had not seen the accident.  Sadly, Mr Yates suffered with a complete spinal cord injury from the fall which rendered him permanently paraplegic.

Mr Yates sued the National Trust claiming that they owed him a duty of care in their choice of Joe Jackman as a contractor.  It is not stated why Mr Yates did not sue Mr Jackman, who may have owed him a duty of care as his employer, but presumably there was some difficulty with Mr Jackman’s insurance position.  The National Trust was insured, but the court decided that they did not owe Mr Yates a duty of care.  The court held the National Trust had a duty to an ordinary visitor who may be injured by the actions of an independent contractor (such as Mr Jackman), but it would place a very much more onerous obligation on occupiers to extend that duty to the contractor’s employees or subcontractors.  The judge stated that there is much more scope for an employee to be injured than for an ordinary visitor and the imposition of such a duty would not be fair or reasonable.

The National Trust had first contracted with Mr Jackman in May 2007 and over the next 2½ years they had entered into 13 further contracts with Mr Jackman and his team to work on over 60 trees.  The judge decided that Mr Jackman was a competent contractor and the National Trust had not been negligent in their choice. Whilst he did have enormous sympathy for Mr Yates appreciating that the accident had radically altered his life, causing him significant pain and suffering and substantial financial loss, the judge did not find that he was entitled to compensation from the National Trust as they did not owe him a relevant duty of care.

Although the circumstances of this case are sad and unfortunate for Mr Yates as the National Trust’s insurers have significantly deeper pockets than he does, it is always advisable to an individual who has been involved in a significant and life–changing accident to seek advice from a specialist personal injury solicitor about pursuing a claim, as each case will be fact-specific and a successful claim could have a huge impact on the life of the injured individual.