Coroners' Inquest Solicitors
The event of employee, contractor or member of the public losing his or her life on a construction site is a traumatic event that can change lives forever. If a death occurs during a building project, police and Health & Safety officers can use the evidence provided by the Coroner at an inquest to criminally prosecute responsible individuals, and families can use the findings to mount a civil claim for damages.
It is imperative that owners and operators within the construction industry have a basic understanding of how inquests work and what is required with regards to giving evidence at an inquest proceeding. Although there has been a substantial decrease in the number of deaths resulting from work in the construction industry over the last 20 years, the latest statistics available from the HSE show that it is still a high-risk industry, which accounts for 31 percent of all fatal workplace accidents and 10 percent of serious work-related injuries.
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At Fisher Scoggins Waters Solicitors, we can act as an ‘Interested Party' if your business is involved in the death of a contractor or employee. We can provide much-needed advice and assistance during this difficult and stressful time.
The Role of the Coroner in a Construction Industry-Related Death
The role of the Coroner is governed by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (the Act). Under the Act, a Coroner has a duty to investigate any death within his or her area where:
the deceased died a violent or unnatural death,
the cause of the death is unknown, or
the deceased died while in custody or state detentio
A Coroner’s job is to ascertain:
who the deceased was
when, where and how he or she died
any particulars, (known as findings of the inquest) related to the individuals death
The Purpose of an Inquest if a Construction Worker Dies
Subject to section 4(3)(a) of the Act, a senior Coroner must hold an inquest into a death as part of their investigation under section 6 of the Act and this must be done within six months of the fatality.
The purpose of an inquest is to answer the questions of ‘what, where and how’ death occurred by questioning witnesses to the event.
Coroners are not Judges, and therefore, although they are bound by the extensive provisions of the Act, they still have a large amount of discretion as to how they conduct their investigations and the inquest. This provides them with the ability to conduct proceedings in a sensitive, compassionate manner, for the benefit of all involved, especially the victim’s family.
‘Properly interested persons’ will be informed of the date of the inquest by the Coroner’s office; however all inquests are held in public, which means press are free to attend and report on events.
In the event of an accident at work, the inquest must be held with a jury. In jury inquests, the Coroner decides matters of law and procedure, and the jury decides the facts of the case and reaches a verdict. The jury cannot blame someone for the death. If there is any blame, this can only be established by other legal proceedings in the civil or criminal courts, although the jury can state facts which make it clear that the death was caused by a specific failure of some sort or by neglect.
The Role of the Witness at an Inquest
A witnesses role is to assist the Coroner in establishing the ‘what, where and how’ the victim died. This is done by either giving evidence in person at the inquest or providing a detailed written statement to the Coroner.
A clear written statement often negates the need for a witness to attend the inquest, or if they do have to attend, can help them give a more accurate account of events in order to assist the Coroner in his or her investigation.
A written statement should be factual and can offer a personal opinion on events; however, it should not try to apportion blame, as this is not part of a Coroner’s duty.
In the event that a construction worker died while working for, or being contracted to your business, you can choose to have legal representation at the inquest. Your lawyer will be able to ask questions of any witnesses called by the Coroner. The Coroner will also advise that a witness does not have to answer questions which may legally incriminate him or her.
Appealing an Inquest Verdict
If you are unsatisfied with the jury's verdict in an inquest it is possible to launch an appeal; however, the procedure is complex and expert legal advice will be necessary to make any viable challenge. It is also possible to apply for Judicial Review in some circumstances, and this must be made within three months of the findings.
For more information on the Coroners' Inquest services Fisher Scoggins Waters offer, please contact us by telephone on 0207 993 6960 or email Charlotte Waters.
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