The Lodge, the Chef and the Wardrobe

In the case of Matthew Coia v Portavadie Estates Limited 2015 CSIH 3, the Inner House (Court of Appeal) issued its Decision on 06 January 2015.

The Pursuer was employed as a Chef by the Defenders at a hotel and lodges at Portavadie Marina, Loch Fyne.

There was no obligation to stay in any accommodation provided by the Defenders but at the start of his employment the Pursuer stayed in a caravan which the Defenders provided.  Its use was “convenient and cheap.”

The caravan’s pipes froze and burst and the Defenders agreed that the Pursuer could stay in one of the lodges.  Usually these were used as accommodation for customers.  The Pursuer paid the Defenders for this accommodation, as he had done for the caravan.

The Pursuer moved his belongings into the lodge and occasionally his girlfriend stayed with him.  He could use it as he wanted but he wasn’t permitted to make any structural alterations or to hang pictures.  The Defenders didn’t provide cleaners or housekeepers for the Pursuer and it was understood that if the lodge was needed by the Defenders for customers, the Pursuer would need to move out.

At the beginning of February 2011 the Defenders told the Pursuer they needed the lodge for a customer and as a result he had to move out.

The lodge had a wardrobe.  The Pursuer had stored some possessions on a shelf in the wardrobe.  The wardrobe contained a metal pole on which to hang clothing.  It transpired this pole wasn’t fixed safely, it dislodged while the Pursuer was removing his possessions and struck him on the foot, causing an injury.

The Action had proceeded in Dunoon Sheriff Court and after Proof the Defenders were absolved from liability.  The Pursuer had argued a breach of various statutory duties, including PUWER 1998, the Work at Height Regulations 2005, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

The Sheriff held that none of the Regulations applied and that the pole in the wardrobe was not “work equipment” when considering the Pursuer’s position.  In addition, the Sheriff considered that when the Pursuer was in the lodge he wasn’t “at work” or “in work with work equipment.”  He wasn’t an employee acting in the course of his employment at the material time.

The Pursuer appealed.  The Inner House Decision sets out the three main issues as follows:-

  1. Was the wardrobe pole which fell and injured the Pursuer “work equipment provided by the Defenders for use or used by an employee of theirs at work” for the purpose of the PUWER Regulations 1998 when the accident happened?
  2. Was the Pursuer at work when the accident happened?
  3. Was the lodge in which the accident happened a workplace for the purpose of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 when the accident happened?

The Inner House Decision was unanimous. The Court held that the Sheriff hadn’t made any error of law in reaching his decision.

The wardrobe and its pole were in the bedroom for the use of paying guests and other occupants of the lodge.  The wardrobe wasn’t in the room “for use at work”.  There was no evidence that it had some practical purpose in relation to work.  “It was an item for the storage of clothes (and other personal possessions) rather than an item for use at work.”

The Court rejected an argument that if it was established that the wardrobe and pole were work equipment for the Defenders’ cleaners/housekeepers then it was work equipment for the Pursuer.  In particular, the Court pointed out that the wardrobe and pole weren’t in the lodge for use at work, not even by the cleaners or housekeepers.  Secondly, a particular item could be “work equipment” when being used at work but not “work equipment” when being used away from work.

In considering the Defenders’ request that the Pursuer move out because the lodge was required for a customer, the Pursuer argued that this instruction was given in the context of a contract of employment.  The Court rejected this argument saying that the request was “given by the owner of the lodge to the temporary occupier of it.”

The Court was similarly firm in taking the view that at the time of the accident the lodge wasn’t the Pursuer’s workplace for the purpose of the Workplace Regulations.

The Appeal was accordingly refused.

The case was an interesting attempt to arguably stretch the relevant statutory provisions to their limit.  The Defenders had no obligation to supply accommodation and the Pursuer wasn’t obliged to stay in the Defenders’ accommodation.  It is hard to see how the Pursuer, as a Chef, could possibly be “at work” or in his “workplace” while removing his personal possessions from his accommodation.

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