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Management faces new liability law risks

Dealership and workshop management could be held liable for deaths resulting from accidents caused by faulty vehicles or workmanship, according to new legislation to be introduced in April.

The car industry is being advised to review its health and safety procedures in light of the Corporate Manslaughter Act, which becomes law on April 6.

David Combes, managing director of motor trade law specialists Lawgistics, said: “This new act moves away from the failing and guilt of the individual and concentrates on the organisation responsible for it – directors or partners and senior management.

“If those responsible for the business fail to take adequate steps to ensure that their employees take adequate safety measures to protect their workforce and anyone likely to be harmed by their activities, then they are liable.

Combes is concerned about how the law will affect the industry. “This means a company which has sold a faulty car or a garage which has carried out faulty workmanship, resulting in a fatal accident, is liable.”

Other potential scenarios include accidents involving technicians carrying out road tests to ascertain a fault on a vehicle, or a technician crushed by a vehicle when he starts it under the bonnet while it is still in gear.

“There are many more situations, which all leave senior management vulnerable and guidelines make it clear that they are not able to delegate responsibility and avoid liability,” he said.

Combes recommends that firms review systems and policies, carrying out risk assessments to consider who could be at risk, the level and whether the risk can be eliminated or reduced. They should also record assessments and inform staff of notable findings and continue to do regular reviews.

Fines for the offence are unlimited. A court can also impose a remedial order which will legally require a remedy to any consequence of management failure. This might be an adequate risk assessment in health and safety terms.

Failure to comply with this order would also attract an unlimited fine. A further punishment will include publicity orders to expose a firm’s wrongdoing.

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