Maintenance man chops off tree branch his ladder is leaning on, sues employer

While pruning a tree on the grounds of a hotel where he worked, Peter Aspinall, 64, sawed off the branch that his ladder was leaning on. He fell and suffered injuries that required surgery. Now he's sued the hotel. From The Telegraph:
He took the action after health and safety inspectors concluded the hotel failed to carry out a risk assessment on the dangers of pruning. They also said that his employer should have given him training on where to place the ladder...

David Walton, mitigating, said the hotel owner, Jan Hampton, was not on the premises at the time and would have ensured the task was carried out by specialist tree surgeons if she had been.

''They proceeded to cut the branch that the ladder was leaning against. It is an unusual accident. Laurel and Hardy do this sort of thing,'' he said.

"Handyman injured after chopping down branch he propped his ladder against"


  1. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, sue.

    Sadly, he will probably win, or at least get a tidy settlement.

    1. Oh, I don’t believe it… The council fined the hotel… The UK is steadily becoming as crazy as the US… Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise I shouldn’t cross this busy motorway as there was nobody here to give me suitable training… what a load of cock!

  2. As a kid, one of my Dad’s friends cut a tree down but he didn’t plan which way he wanted to fell it, so it got stuck in the crotch of another tree. He proceeded to climb along the half-fallen tree, which was now suspended more-or-less horizontally in mid-air, and cut it in half about halfway along its length. He chose a point past the fulcrum to cut, and sat astride the log a little further along than that.

    Obviously, when he completed the cut, the top half of the tree came crashing down with him sitting on it like a horse, and it almost took his leg. It’s a couple inches shorter still now.

  3. While I hope he can get his bills paid for, this is a great example of why we need tort reform.
    He was clearly at fault, it’s absurd that his employer is now going to have to spend money hiring an attorney.

    1. I don’t understand how “tort reform” would have any effect. You can sue anyone over anything, at least you can in America. The court system is then involved and lawyers become a necessity. With crazy bullshit a judge may throw it out of court immediately and thus stop it from actually going anywhere. You can’t really get around that.

  4. As a personal injury barrister in Manchester, close to where this took place, I say what’s the problem?

  5. “Oh no! Unemployment is up!….Oh look, I did something stupid at work so I’m going to sue the ones that support my livelihood! ….hey, we want higher pay! worker’s rights!!..”

    This guy is a tool and I hope he comes down with rectal cancer (Sup, Sean Penn.).

  6. I don’t think anyone thinks this is really his employer’s fault, but I know that juries occasionally award money from one party which seems rich to another party which seems poor, regardless of fault.

  7. If you read the article, you’ll find this happened in England, where we don’t have attorneys. (Well, technically we do, but no lawyer is called that). And most of the measures that people in the US mean when they talk about ‘tort reform’ would be bringing US law more into line with ours.

    Just because this bloke has sued his employer does not mean he’ll win – and under our costs system, if he loses, he gets to pay his own legal bill and most of that of the hotel (which ought to have legal insurance anyway).

    Even if he wins, and if I’ve learned one thing studying law it is not to believe one-sided reports of legal cases in newspapers – then he might well find that his damages are cut right down via so-called contributory negligence of his own.

  8. If the world was fair, the guy’s health insurance would cover his medical expenses and no one else would pay. If the guy couldn’t get his insurance to cover, it would be generous of the employer to cover the guy’s medical expenses and a month or so worth of paid leave, and then justifiably fire the guy. The hotel might consider itself lucky the clueless handyman didn’t end up hurting a customer. Tort reform is seriously demanded if the employer pays any more than that.

  9. You’re all missing a major aspect of this story…this guy was NOT an experienced/licensed tree cutter. He was a 64 yr old maintenance man that worked for the hotel. His boss sent him to prune this tree without any training or experience. The hotel was being cheap and now they’re going to pay through the nose for it. They didn’t hire professionals, didn’t get the proper insurance in place, didn’t give the guy any training and then left him on his own. They deserve whatever lawsuit is coming to them.

  10. I do hope that after the branch was sawed off, there was a suitable pause (during which he and the ladder stayed in place), after which he looked down with some chagrin, looked up, held up a sign that said “oh no!”, and then fell.

  11. My brother did exactly the same thing to his own apple tree. He didn’t see fit to sue himself, however.

  12. so many assumptions. a 64 year old guy (who obviously did not know what he’s doing) was told to ‘get up there and chop that branch off’ without any training. he makes a basic mistake. it’s easy to laugh at. now he has to pay for surgery. i seriously doubt he wanted to be up there in the first place. what would you do? it was his mistake but the hotel bears some responsibility towards its employees. otherwise anything goes.

  13. “… he might well find that his damages are cut right down via so-called contributory negligence of his own.”
    Glad to hear English law employs contributory negligence. It’s nice to hear about something which makes sense in an age when common sense, ain’t.

  14. Quite apart from the absurdities of the legal system of the most litigious nation on Earth, how did this man ever survive to the age of 64?

  15. Are people commenting under the assumption that this incident took place in the US? The hotel is in Lancaster, England.

    Furthermore, the hotel has already admitted that they were at fault, and the plaintiff is just suing for compensation.

    Corporations love it when we let stories about stupid mistakes frighten us into supporting “tort reform”.

  16. I used to laugh at the stories that circulate about the ridiculous lawsuits placed and how there oughtta be a law–until someone wiser than me chided me and I realized that these stories are placed by those monied interests with an agenda seeking to change the public’s willingness to accept the idea that radical change to our legal freedoms is necessary

    As Snopes (hardly at the left of the dial) reminds us in their article concerning the endless slanted emails masquerading as humor, “Big Business is poised to benefit when it no longer needs to fear the courts.”

    Groundless suits will be dismissed immediately, or if not, eventually. What’s most important is that the small retain the right to challenge the large.

    So no, this maintenance guy does NOT serve to highlight the need for tort reform.

  17. Consider that if he’d hurt another employee, rather than himself, he would not personally be liable but his employer would. If we’re to be consistent, we must apply the same reasoning here.

  18. While it is true that the poor gentleman in question was not a trained tree trimmer, I would presume that 64 years of life would have taught him that large, heavy objects, such as those you might lean a ladder on, do not tend to float, unsupported, in midair.

    If he had refused to perform this duty, and his employer fired or coerced him, then I could see grounds for a suit. Instead, he injured himself doing something that is rather obviously unintelligent.

    Are businesses required to conduct a risk assessment to establish that one might fall off a ladder? Are they required to educate their employees about the mechanisms by which a tree, firmly rooted in the earth, does not fall down, while a branch, connected to nothing in midair, does?

  19. Many States provide immunity to employers from lawsuits by its employees for injuries at work, their claims to be presented only to a State insurance fund such as Labor and Industries.

    So, I don’t believe this story.

  20. I’m less than half his age and still, I know how easy it is to do such a mistake. I’m glad I never managed to screw something up on that order yet, but then again, I’ve still got plenty of time.

    Mental lapses are a common phenomenon. No matter how trivial a task is (or rather, especially when it is a trivial task), there is always a certain chance of a mental lapse.

    For the most part the consequence are a little less severe – like pouring salt instead of sugar into your tea. Or looking at your watch while holding a glass in the same hand. The kind of mistake that everyone does every once in a while.

    So, don’t laugh too hard. You might be next.

  21. Training on where to place the ladder?

    “Do not place ladder on branches that are going to be cut.”

    It also sounds like he was using a handheld saw (not a chainsaw) which would take some considerable time to saw through a branch heavy enough to support a man on a ladder. You’d think that halfway through the mistake might have been noticed. I could understand it a little more if it was a chainsaw and it was a quick motion amongst a set of other quick motions.

  22. My boss has me doing ridiculous (and sometimes dangerous) crap all the time that i am not qualified to do. he does this because he is cheap and refuses to pay someone who is competently trained and would cost than the 10.oo an hour i am paid. this is fine, it’s his choice to this.
    however, if i am injured because i slip and fall off of an old rusty roof whilst repositioning an exhaust fan, i am damn sure going to sue. employers are responsible for the safety of their workers. i also have no health insurance.
    i hope this guy bleeds the bastards dry.

  23. Since this was on the job, worker’s compensation would cover this in the US and he would not be able to sue his employer. (Of course, the employer is paying for the workers compensation insurance.)

  24. Things such as this really require a real-life version of Ankh-Morpork’s ‘Being Bloody Stupid Act of 1581’

  25. If he fell off the ladder then he would have a case for being made to do dangerous work. But for this idiotic act he has only himself to blame.

  26. It is very easy to sit behind the keyboard and retrospectively rampage about someones stupdity.
    But in fact, I can see how a thing like that can happen to anyone by accident.
    When you have a multi branched tree, on which you parked your ladder, and you start to concentrate on your trimming task, it is easy to get consume by your work and not to notice what branch you are trimming, or to forget that you have leaned on that particular branch, or to get confused between what trunk belongs to ehat branch…
    Especially if you are not experienced in that kind of job.
    Also, this report shallows the case and does not go into the intricacies and detailes of what happened.
    Maybe we are talking about some cheap abusive boss, who in order to save a buck, forced the 64 yo lobby greeter
    ,who can’t lose his job since no one will hire him at his age, to climb on a tree and start triming it.
    In that case, it does seems rather just if the worker will receive compensations.

    And BTW, there are many accidents that on hindsight might look trivial and moronic, but at the time of the occurence most people might think it is reasonable.
    Infact I think that you can brand any accident as “stupid”.
    A man leaving his house and forget to lock the door, returnig home and discovering everything is gone- is’t that ‘stupid’ of him?
    Raise your hand who never forgot anything…

  27. Funny how everyone is on the side of the hotel. Arborists exist for a reason. Having some guy on staff perform tree surgery is not what a prudent employer does. They do share in the blame for their poor judgement. That the owner wasn’t on the premises at the time does not address the owner’s failure to pay attention to his property and to manage it in a safe and reasonable way. But we also really have no idea if this is the whole or true story, do we?

  28. *tree surgeons*

    right. because trimming branches is something that no handyman should ever be asked to do, and a tree surgeon is required. how much training is needed, in all reality? cut here, here and here, don’t fall off the fucking ladder.

    it seems to me like another case of people refusing responsibility for their own actions.

  29. He is just as “responsible” as in a slipping accident when you miss the step with your leg.
    Accidents happen!

  30. It is not an unreasonable expectation to require an employer to identify hazards and undertake a risk assessment of the work they require the workers to do. Training and other administrative controls would have been identified if this occurred

  31. A former landlord of mine did the same thing once. He broke his leg. I thought this stuff only happens in cartoons?

  32. Amazing how you guys look for any way to avoid pinning the result of stupidity on the stupid person.

    Additional details here:–sues-BOSSES-breaking-foot.html

    – Aspinall was not order up the ladder by an imagined “cheap boss”. The assistant gardener asked him to help.

    – the gardener steadied the ladder while Aspinall went up the ladder

    – Aspinall used a bow saw to cut the limb. Meaning that the ladder was probably jiggling the whole time during the 3-5 minutes it took him to cut through the wood. Fairly amazing the penny didnt drop while his branch deflected with the saw strokes.

    – Aspinall had worked for the hotel for for 2 weeks and has subsequently claimed 18 months of sick leave for a broken heal.

    – The hotel has been forced to pay 2K pounds and faces a civil suit so this is not some phony “plant” story about imagined dangers of tort abuse.

    -Aspinall previous employment: “Mr Aspinall, who previously worked for British Aerospace for 24 years, could not be reached for comment.

  33. But…according to all the times I’ve seen this done on TV, the branch stays suspended in mid-air (without support), and the rest of the tree falls over!

    Granted, those were all cartoons, but still….

    /He should’ve moved his feet quickly in the air and not looked down, that way he wouldn’t have fallen.

  34. Does HSE not give guidelines on working at heights?

    I have read this article many time over on different sites and have come to the conclusion that oth parties were in the wrong.

    For tree work, rope access is the recommended solution.
    There is more information here regarding the neccessary qualifications one needs to carry out these procedures safely:

    People think tree surgery contractors are too expensive and go for the cheaper option…so which has cost more in the long run this time?

    Posted by a representative of:, UK based tree surgeon professionals.

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