Unfortunately workplace accidents can occur…

Date: Sep 5, 2023

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Summer is almost over, and it will soon be time to light the fire and enjoy the latest binge-worthy drama. I for one am still in mourning following the end of ‘Succession’. The final episode has inspired many articles on the brilliance of the writing and how it stacks up against other series finales with cult status. 

(Succession final season spoiler alert!)

In typical law geek style, that episode and, in particular, the final scene involving actor Jeremy Strong which hinted that he might jump into the Hudson, got me thinking what the legal implications might have been had he done so (and fallen to his death).

The show’s director has revealed that Strong improvised during the filming of the scene and that someone had to intervene to prevent him actually jumping in. Filming on such a high profile (and high budget) show would have no doubt involved meticulous planning and countless risk assessments for each shot. Strong is, however, known for his intense ‘method acting’ style and could be described as something of a maverick on set. Does that make his actions reasonably foreseeable and therefore increase the potential liability of his employers?  Quite possibly.

Deaths on TV/film sites do of course occur. The recent ‘loaded gun’ incident involving Alec Baldwin on the set of (considerably lower budget) ‘Rust’ is a prime example. In typical US style, that incident has spawned a multitude of legal actions alongside the criminal and health and safety investigations. 

In Northern Ireland, fatal accidents in the workplace trigger what is typically a joint investigation between the PSNI and HSE (NI). At the conclusion of that investigation, a file is passed to the PPS with a recommendation as to whether any prosecution should be considered. The PPS then review the file and make a decision on whether a prosecution is justified, either for breach of health and safety regulations or, in more extreme cases, for corporate manslaughter. 

The PSNI also assist the Coroner’s office by obtaining witness statements and ingathering evidence for use at any Inquest to follow.  A Coronial Inquest will typically be convened in respect of any death in the workplace. The purpose and procedure of an Inquest is similar to Inquests in GB (FAIs in Scotland) with some quirks in the jurisprudence developed in relation to Legacy Inquests which deal with deaths which occurred during the Troubles. The findings of an Inquest record the essential facts about how the person died. They do not attribute blame, although they can include lessons to be learned for the future. 

In most cases, the family of the deceased will issue civil proceedings against the Employer and any other party involved in the circumstances surrounding the death. Generally, those proceedings are issued following the conclusion of the Inquest. However, in many cases the family has no option but to issue proceedings prior to its conclusion – there still exists a significant backlog in Inquests following the pandemic and as a result of the volume of Legacy Inquests.

Northern Ireland’s film and television industry is thriving, but thankfully to date there have been no on set tragedies.  Unfortunately, accidents do occur in all industries. The Litigation Team at Mills Selig have extensive experience supporting clients through the process of co-operating with HSE (NI) and the PSNI and representing their interests in the Inquest and any other proceedings to follow. 

Editorial prepared by Kirsten Magee, Partner, Litigation @ Mills Selig

Kirsten Magee, Partner, Litigation
Kirsten is a highly skilled and experienced commercial litigator with a background in advising both private and public sector clients on a wide range of complex, high-value disputes.

T: 028 9024 3878
E: Kirsten.Magee@MillsSelig.com
W: https://millsselig.com/team/kirsten-magee/

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