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Smith v Baker & Sons [1891] AC 325

The Claimant sued his employers for injuries sustained while in the course of working in their employment. He was employed to hold a drill in position whilst two other workers took it in turns to hit the drill with a hammer. Next to where he was working another set of workers were engaged in taking out stones and putting them into a steam crane which swung over the place where the Claimant was working. The Claimant was injured when a stone fell out of the crane and struck him on the head. The Defendant raised the defence of volenti non fit injuria in that the Claimant knew it was a dangerous practice and had complained that it was dangerous but nevertheless continued. At trial the jury found for the Claimant. The Defendant appealed and the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal holding that the Claimant was precluded from recovering as he had willingly accepted the risk. The Claimant appealed to the House of Lords.

Held 3:2 Decision.

The appeal was allowed. The Claimant may have been aware of the danger of the job, but had not consented to the lack of care. He was therefore entitled to recover damages


Lord Watson:

"In its application to questions between the employer and the employed, the maxim as now used generally imports that the workman had either expressly or by implication agreed to take upon himself the risks attendant upon the particular work which he was engaged to perform, and from which he has suffered injury. The question which has most frequently to be considered is not whether he voluntarily and rashly exposed himself to injury, but whether he agreed that, if injury should befall him, the risk was to be his and not his masters. When, as is commonly the case, his acceptance or non-acceptance of the risk is left to implication, the workman cannot reasonably be held to have undertaken it unless he knew of its existence, and appreciated or had the means of appreciating its danger. But assuming that he did so, I am unable to accede to the suggestion that the mere fact of his continuing at his work, with such knowledge and appreciation, will in every case necessarily imply his acceptance. Whether it will have that effect or not depends, in my opinion, to a considerable extent upon the nature of the risk, and the workman's connection with it, as well as upon other considerations which must vary according to the circumstances of each case."
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