Imperial Chemical Industries v Shatwell

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Last modified: 07/03/18 Author: In-house law team

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Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd v Shatwell [1965] AC 656

Employer liability for an employee’s personal injury and the defence of volenti non fit injuria.

Facts

Two brothers who were qualified shot-firers sustained injuries at their employer’s quarries. The employees had been short of wire to test a circuit for firing explosives from a sheltered distance. The brothers disobeyed their employer’s instructions and mandatory regulations and tested the electric circuit with the insufficient wiring, causing them to sustain injuries.

Issue

The causal connection between the employees’ negligence, for which the employer would be vicariously liable, and the injuries sustained was established. The question arose as to whether the employer could rely on the defence of volenti non fit injuria as the brothers in neglect of express instructions and mandatory precautions, with knowledge of the associated risks.

Held

The Court held that an employer is able to rely on volenti non fit injuria as a complete defence to vicarious liability when the employees act in deliberate neglect of the employer’s instructions and in knowledge of the associated risks. On the facts of the case, although the employee may be vicariously liable for their employees’ negligence, the two brothers had contributed to their own injuries by acting in deliberate neglect of the employer’s instructions and statutory regulations. Particularly, the employer had been in full compliance with applicable statutory duties and ensured that all employees were aware of the relevant regulations. Thus, the defence of volenti non fit injuria was held to apply and the employer is not vicariously liable for the injuries.

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