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Continued Use of Defective Devices - Who is at Fault?

Disputes between insurers and claimants under insurance policies are common, and a recent dispute raised an interesting question: What is the position if a person or business uses a device which they know to be faulty and this results in subsequent damage? It took an appearance before the Court of Appeal to decide who was responsible when the use of a defective thermolevel, installed to monitor the temperature and the level of liquid in one of a series of tanks, led to a disastrous fire at the premises of a manufacturer of turbine aerofoils and other precision components for the aerospace industry.

It was clear that the owner of the factory was aware of problems with the thermolevel, but he had continued to use it anyway.

When a claim for damages was brought, the Court had to decide who was responsible for the fire. Was it the manufacturer of the thermolevel or the factory owner who had allowed the defective item to continue to be used? Until that issue was resolved, the question of which company's insurers stood to foot the bill could not be answered.

The Court concluded that the continued use of the defective item 'broke the chain of causation' – the fire was not the direct result of the thermolevel being faulty but of its continued use whilst this was known to be the case.

The decision is important for those who are happy to 'muddle along' using equipment which is known to be faulty or potentially unsafe.

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