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Groves v Lord Wimbourne [1898] 2 QB 402

Breach of statutory duty; failure to fence machinery; whether claimant has cause of action


The claimant was employed at the defendant’s iron works at a steam winch with revolving cog wheels. His right arm became trapped in the cog wheels and he sustained a severe injury which resulted in his right forearm being amputated. The cog wheels had been unfenced in breach of section 5 of the Factory and Workshop Act 1878 which placed the employer under an absolute duty to ensure that dangerous machinery was appropriately fenced. The claimant brought an action against the employer for personal injury caused by his breach of statutory duty.


The claimant asserted the defendant failed to ensure the admittedly dangerous machinery was fenced contrary to his statutory duty, causing him to sustain injury. Where a statutory duty is imposed for the benefit of a limited class of persons and the alternative remedy of financial penalty would not adequately compensate the person the statute is designed to protect, then parliament cannot have intended this to be the only remedy available, and a personal cause of action should lie with the claimant. The defendant contended the 1878 Act provided financial penalties be imposed for breach of its provisions, and this was the only remedy available.


The claimant’s claim was upheld. The fact that there were alternative penalties in terms of financial penalties available for breach of section 5 did not preclude a claim for breach of statutory duty on the part of the claimant. The statutory provisions were intended to protect factory workers from dangerous machinery and, accordingly, a worker who is injured as a result of a breach of the 1878 Act will have a direct cause of action.

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