What does it mean when someone tries to sue you for compensation following a H&S incident at work?

The law behind the name

So what does it really mean when someone sues you for compensation in the UK? Lets get this straight.

To sue someone for compensation is only relevant to civil law and these are usually cases brought by individuals and are claiming against another individual or an organisation, in this case this could be you or your business.

These cases are heard through civil court structures, this means the county court and the high court. There are always two parties; the claimant and the defendant. The claimant is the one who is trying to claim compensation for a wrong doing and the defendant is the party trying to defend against the claim.

The claimant would be trying to cite a tort (a civil wrong).

There are several torts in civil law, these are;

  • defamation

  • nuisance

  • breach of statutory duty

  • negligence.

For someone to be able to sue you or your business for matters in health and safety, they would usually be for a breach of negligence or breach of statutory duty.

What are the chances of them succeeding?

As a civil law case will be heard and decided by a judge in county court, their judgement is based on a burden of proof and balance of probabilities, this means that the judge must be satisfied that the claim is right by just a small percentage. A judge must be just 51% sure that their claim is true and fair to go ahead and as that balance of probability gets higher so will the amount of compensation to be awarded to the claimant.

When this happens the judge sets a legal precedent in which to use for future cases, this is what is known as "common law." Common law exists in law and aids judges with decisions by previous cases of a similar nature.


Damages or compensation are designed to put the claimant back into the same position they were in before the injury. Damages are then split into two categories

  • General - for non-monetary losses eg. pain and suffering

  • Special - for financial loss eg. loss of earning, medical/dental bills etc.

Damages is a term for a financial monetary value awarded to the claimant and this is the only outcome for a successful case in a county court.

Is there a time limit?

Yes, in fact there is a time limit, there is a three year time limit from from the date the alleged incident took place for the claimant to bring about a civil case.

So, how does this relate to health and safety law?

A health and safety incident can hit you as a business owner with more than one legal case for the same incident, often if someone gets hurt you can have a civil case brought to you by the individual claiming compensation and also a criminal case brought against you by the enforcing body, this will usually be your local authority or the HSE. Not good news!

It isn't all bad news!

Help is out there, if you would like to talk to us and have a free assessment, or think it's time to have an audit, please get in touch and we will be glad to help

12 views0 comments