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Consultants eye site death case

The first case to be brought under the new corporate manslaughter law is due to restart next month. Its outcome could have significant consequences for small consultants.

The case involves Peter Eaton, a director of The Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings.

Eaton was in court for a pretrial hearing last month following the death of geologist Alexander Wright, who died after the sides of a pit from which he was taking soil samples collapsed on him last September.

Eaton faces charges − as an individual and on behalf of his company − of unlawful killing by gross negligence, manslaughter under common law and breaches of health and safety regulations. The new law makes it easier to bring companies to justice if their conduct amounts to a gross breach of a duty of care that results in a death.

More time needed

Eaton appeared at Bristol Crown Court in August, but his barrister made an application for more time and the case was postponed.

A plea and case management hearing − which will see a plea entered and the logistics of the case discussed − will occur in late October, but a date has not yet been fixed. The trial itself will begin on 23 February.

The landmark case is the first to be brought under the Corporate Manslaughter & Corporate Homicide Act 2007. Its outcome could have significant implications for other small companies, said Hamish Lal, a partner at law firm Dundas & Wilson.

Consultants will be watching the outcome of the case to see whether it has implications for them and their risk assessment procedures. “It’s likely to be of biggest concern for consultants such as surveyors or structural designers,” he said.

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