Roofer falls off ladder set
up by home owner; Court orders home owner to pay $1.1m
Home owners are responsible for injuries to tradesmen
working on their home if
they fail to protect them from harm.
This is the lesson from an important decision on occupiers’
v Keating 
TASSC 20 decided this month.
Chief Justice Blow of the Supreme Court of Tasmania found
that that the home owners (Matthew and Lisa Keating) had
breached their duty of care for the safety of their
tradesman (Dale Hendrex), and awarded damages of $1,126,904.
What was the duty of care,
how was it breached, and did it cause the injury?
The Keatings wanted to replace the roof cladding at their
house in Pybus Street, Snug, South Hobart. They engaged
Hendrex, a roofing contractor they knew, and agreed to pay
him $25 per hour. Mr Keating, a neighbour and another friend
helped Hendrex, as unpaid volunteers.
Mr Keating set up his ladder on the concrete driveway at the
front of the carport so that Hendrex and the other workers
could travel to and from the roof of the house via that
ladder and the roof of the carport. The ladder was erected
in the “A” position, and not in the extension position. The
ladder was tendered as an exhibit at the trial.
The duty of care
The Court was satisfied that the Keatings owed Hendrex “a
duty to take reasonable care to protect him from harm when
he was travelling up to and down from the carport roof.”
The Court did not explore whether or not the risk of falling
was obvious, and therefore whether the defence of voluntary
assumption of risk could be raised by the Keatings.
The breach of the duty of care
Each of the three requisites set out in s 11 of the Civil
Liability Act 2002
(Tas) were satisfied:
- It was
reasonably foreseeable that
“any person travelling to or from the roof of the house
that day via the ladder and the carport could fall” and
be injured because the top of the ladder was 40 cm lower
than the carport roof. Because of the gap, an “awkward
manoeuvre” was necessary to step down onto the ladder
from the carport roof. Also, it was
reasonably foreseeable that
“the ladder might tilt if it were not secured”.
- The risk of injury was significant.
- A reasonable person in the position of Mr Keating “would
have taken precautions to
avoid the risk of a man falling and suffering injury” by
setting up the ladder in the extension ladder
configuration so that the top was above the carport roof
(90 cm above is recommended), and by securing the ladder
with a rope or something similar.
The requisite that the breach of the duty of care caused the
harm was satisfied for the purposes of s 13 of the Civil
Liability Act 2002
“But for (a)
Mr Keating’s failure to erect the ladder as an extension
ladder, with its top well above the carport roof, and (b)
his failure to secure the ladder with a rope, [Hendrex]
would have descended the ladder in a conventional way.”
The Court said that “it is clearly appropriate that the
scope of the Keating’s liability should extend to the harm
that Hendrex suffered”.
Was Hendrex contributorily negligent by failing “to take
reasonable care for his own safety” under s 23 of the Civil
Liability Act 2002
The Court found that the injury was caused in this way:
Hendrex “elected to descend from the carport roof by sitting
on the edge of the roof, stepping face forward onto the
ladder, and descending the ladder without turning to face
the ladder”. “He lost balance on the way down, causing the
ladder to fall over”. He suffered severe head injuries,
fractured both of his wrists and injured his right shoulder
when he fell onto the concrete driveway.
The Court found that Hendrex was negligent, just as Keating
was - because he should have looked at the ladder before he
climbed it, and saw that it was not fully extended and not
secured, and either did so himself, or asked Keating to do
The Court considered that Hendrex was more negligent than
Keating because he had descended the ladder frontwards, with
nothing to hang onto. Therefore the Court apportioned to
Hendrex 60% responsibility and to Keating 40% responsibility
for the fall. And so the damages awarded to Hendrex were
reduced by 60% because of his contributory negligence.
The damages were assessed on the basis that: Hendrex was 36
years old on the day of his fall and 44 years old at the
time of the trial; he had not done any paid work since his
fall; he was permanently unemployable as a result of his
fall; he was substantially incapacitated with brain damage:
memory impairment and headaches; and his wife had taken the
role of a carer, looking after him day and night.
This is how the damages were calculated:
Past loss of earnings $60,750
Future loss of earnings $180,750
Past gratuitous care $548,000
Future care $1,537,226
Past medical and pharmaceutical expenses $29,957
Future medical, pharmaceutical & misc. expenses $81,078
Pain and suffering and loss of amenities $210,000
Total of the above $2,647,261
Less 60% (contributory negligence) ($1,588,357)
Fund management expenses (17% of $400,000) $68,000
In addition the Civil
Liabilities Act claim,
Hendrex pursued two other claims at the trial –
- Breach of the Workplace
Health and Safety Act and Regulations –
the Court held that the Act did not apply because
Keating did not make available any part of the premises
to be used as a workplace; and Hendrex was an
independent contractor, not an employee; and AS 1892 -
being the Australian Standard relating to portable
ladders - was not breached because there was nothing
unsuitable about the design or construction of the
ladder for this use.
- Breach of an implied term in the contract to provide
a safe system of work – the Court was not convinced that
without implying that term the contract lacked business
Ladder safety is a serious issue – look at the ACCC webpages
– Product Safety Australia and Safety Alert using a ladder.
The proceedings illustrate the importance of maintaining
Home Insurance, because of the Liability cover it contains.
This is a typical cover -
We cover the legal liability of you or your family
for: death or bodily injury to someone else, or loss or
damage to someone else’s property in an incident that
takes place in your home or at the site and for which
you or your family is responsible as an owner or
occupier of your home or the site. For example, you may
be liable when someone falls and is injured when
visiting your home.
This covers not only the damages award, but also the legal
cost of defending the proceedings.
And so unless a home owner has Liability insurance, they are
putting their property and their assets at risk every time a
tradesman visits, even if the tradesman has their own