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A crane hire company has been fined £700,000 following the death of an employee who was killed when driving a 16-wheel, 130-tonne crane down as access road where he failed to negotiate a steep bend.  On wider investigation following the crash, several of the company’s other cranes were discovered to have brake faults and it was determined that, had the company properly serviced and maintained its cranes, the employee would not have died.

The offence of corporate manslaughter

Any company registered in the UK is liable to be prosecuted for this offence under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, in situations where either an employee or a member of the public is killed and all of the following criteria apply:

  1. The way in which the business’ activities are managed or organised causes the death.
  2. The death is the result of a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed to that person.
  3. The way in which the business’ activities are managed or organised is a substantial element of the breach.

A company prosecuted under this legislation can also still be prosecuted for any applicable breaches of health and safety or other laws.

Can individuals be prosecuted for corporate manslaughter?

Although the legislation also applies to Partnerships, corporate manslaughter does not apply to individuals (e.g. company directors or line managers), however individuals can be prosecuted under the offence of manslaughter by gross negligence (the maximum penalty being life imprisonment).

The penalties for corporate manslaughter

A company found guilty under the legislation can expect to receive any number of the following:

  • Unlimited fines – rarely less than £500,000 and often millions of pounds, which can be increased if there is evidence that the accident was foreseeable in circumstances where health and safety breaches were widespread.
  • Costs – to be paid to the Crown Prosecution Service and/or Health and Safety Executive.
  • Remedial order – a requirement by law that a business address specific failings involved in the offence.
  • Reputational damage – the court can impose a publicity order, forcing the business to advertise that it has been convicted of corporate manslaughter.
  • Insurance – cover will not be available to a business if it has been convicted of corporate manslaughter.

Advice on corporate liability and corporate manslaughter

As the above demonstrates, the management, organisation and conduct of your business should be carefully considered to avoid both potential corporate and individual liabilities, which can have huge impacts on lives and the existence of companies.

Our team of specialist corporate and employment lawyers are here for you and your business, should you need help or advice.  Call to speak to a member of our team today using one of the telephone numbers below.