• In the case of Chandler v Cape plc [2012] EWCA Civ 525, the Court of Appeal ruled the company had a responsibility of care to provide a safe system of work.
  • This tort law case concerned duty of care, asbestos, subsidiary and corporate responsibility.

Facts of the Case

  • D employed C for about 18 months. Years later, C found out that when he was employed he was exposed to asbestos causing him to develop asbestosis.
  • However at this point in time the company did not exist. C brought proceedings against D in this appeal for violating this duty of care.


  • Did the parent company take on a direct duty to the subsidiary’s employees?
  • Did D breach this duty of care?

Held by Court of Appeal

  • Appeal dismissed – D owed a direct duty of care and since there were not reasonable steps taken in light of the knowledge C unfortunately suffered an injury.

Arden LJ

Assumption of responsibility

  • “Whether a party has assumed responsibility is a question of law. The court does not have to find that the relevant party has voluntarily assumed responsibility (see also on this point Customs and Excise Commissioners v Barclays Bank [2007] 1 AC 181, cited by Mr Weir). The word “assumption” is therefore something of a misnomer. The phrase “attachment” of responsibility might be more accurate.” [64]
  • “Responsibility was imposed in Dorset Yacht Co Ltd v Home Office [1970] AC 1004, where the Home Office was held liable for damage done by escaping Borstal boys over whom the Home Office had had control. Its control over them gave rise to a special relationship in law between the plaintiffs and the Home Office.” [65]

Was there a duty of care?

  • This case referred to Caparo Industries PLC v Dickman [1990] UKHL 2 to prove that there was a duty of care and that it was fair, just and reasonable to put an assumption of responsibility.
  • “In these circumstances, there was, in my judgment, a direct duty of care owed by Cape to the employees of Cape Products. There was an omission to advise on precautionary measures even though it was doing research and that research had not established (nor could it establish) that the asbestosis and related diseases were not caused by asbestos dust.” [79]


  • “In appropriate circumstances the law may impose on a parent company responsibility for the health and safety of its subsidiary’s employees. Those circumstances include a situation where, as in the present case, (1) the businesses of the parent and subsidiary are in a relevant respect the same; (2) the parent has, or ought to have, superior knowledge on some relevant aspect of health and safety in the particular industry; (3) the subsidiary’s system of work is unsafe as the parent company knew, or ought to have known; and (4) the parent knew or ought to have foreseen that the subsidiary or its employees would rely on its using that superior knowledge for the employees’ protection. For the purposes of (4) it is not necessary to show that the parent is in the practice of intervening in the health and safety policies of the subsidiary.” [80]