Brewpubs' duty of care in spotlight after keg explosion settlement

Compensation liability for breweries has been placed in stark relief after it was revealed a former NSW bartender settled in court this week with a bar venue after a life-changing explosion at the site.

Bartender Jye Parker was claiming nearly $3 million from Newcastle’s Bar Beach Bowling Club according to NSW Supreme Court documents published in May 2020 after a keg explosion led to virtually his whole arm being amputated. The cost of prosthetics and procedures as a result of the explosion is estimated to cost $2.7 million.

According to documents, the gas bottle of the portable dispensing system behind the bar was not fitted with a gas regulator and the pressure in the gas bottle vastly exceeded the capacity of the keg to withstand it, even allowing for the keg’s design factor of safety.

When the plaintiff operated the system, having made some adjustments to it, the introduction of the gas into the keg at high pressure caused the keg to fail and explode.

Parker was 23 years old at the time of the incident in October 2014 but he was not an employee of the bar at the time. It prompted Parker to sue both the venue and Carlton & United Breweries saying they breached their duty of care. The NSW Supreme Court last year accepted CUB was not responsible or liable in any way for Mr Parker’s injuries, but the brewery agreed to pay a portion of Mr Parker’s legal costs.

The case against the venue was adjourned in May and The Australian revealed yesterday that an out-of-court settlement was made in favour of Mr Parker.

Legal responsibilities under employers’ duty of care mean that all employers have a responsibility to provide and maintain, as far as practicable, a safe working environment, which is what Parker’s case initially rested on.

Jessica Patterson, a partner in WA law firm Lavan’s Liquor Licensing, Hospitality and Events team explained that while Australia does not tend to be as litigious as say its US counterpart, there is a considerable obligation on the part of employers, particularly in workplaces like brewpubs, to provide safe environments for employees and anyone using the equipment, regardless of whether they are employees or not.

Ensuring health and safety practices are as efficient as possible is key, but Patterson said it was not possible to totally prevent situations like this.

“Each case will have its own circumstances,” she acknowledged.

During court proceedings, the Bar Beach Bowling Club venue admitted it owed a duty of care but denied it was legally responsible for the injury Parker received.

Patterson explained that Parker’s legal team would have needed to be able to prove, amongst other things, that a duty of care was both owed and breached.

“A possible argument could be that there was no duty of care owed to the injured person because of that particular person’s position/role [or that] a duty of care may exist but it could be argued that the duty was not breached, or that there were intervening circumstances,” she explained.

A way to protect the business, after ensuring all reasonable possible health and safety concerns are dealt with, is to get liability insurance.

“Brewers need to do everything they can to identify potential risks and then minimise those risks with a range of measures.

“At the same time, they should ensure they have adequate insurances in place in the event an incident does occur.

“[A good plan would cover] as much as possible so that there is a wide scope for liability that could potentially be admitted and a wide scope for payouts of damages and costs,” Patterson explained.


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