Burns victim lodges appeal after being set on fire while working at Graveley firm

A ruling will be given on the appeal at a later date.

A ruling will be given on the appeal at a later date. - Credit: Archant

A man who was set on fire by a workmate in a “reckless” prank is battling for more than £170,000 compensation.

Paul Graham, 38, was badly burned and suffered scarring in what his then employer, Commercial Bodyworks Ltd, of Toseland Road, Graveley, described as “horseplay”.

The father-of-two was set alight on June 11, 2009, after friend and colleague, Peter Wilkinson, sprayed his overalls with a flammable thinning agent and flicked a cigarette lighter.

Mr Graham was turned into a fireball. His colleagues put out the blaze with a fire extinguisher and called an ambulance.

Last year, a Cambridge County Court judge refused Mr Graham a payout from Commercial Bodyworks, saying it could not be blamed for the “personal act”.

But his lawyers have now asked London’s Civil Court of Appeal to reboot his compensation bid, insisting the company was “vicariously liable” for his injuries.

Giving his ruling at the County Court last March, Judge Michael Yelton said Mr Graham was “very badly burned” and suffered “considerable financial losses”, as well as “horrific scarring”.

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Mr Wilkinson initially suggested Mr Graham had flouted a company smoking ban and his overalls had “gone up” because they were contaminated with thinners.

However, Judge Yelton said he was “satisfied on the balance of probabilities” that Mr Wilkinson sprayed the thinner onto Mr Graham and “used a lighter in the vicinity of the wet patch”.

He added: “I am not satisfied that Mr Wilkinson intended to cause serious harm to Mr Graham. His actions were deliberate...and he was clearly reckless about the risks he created.”

Judge Yelton said Mr Wilkinson had not been traced since and could not give an explanation for his actions.

“Commercial Bodyworks have throughout asserted that this incident was ‘horseplay’...that seems to me grossly to underestimate Mr Wilkinson’s actions, which are better described as a serious assault on his then-friend,” he added.

Mr Graham’s lawyers argued that the company was “lax in the storage and distribution of thinners” and that the general way the firm ran its business meant it should be held responsible for Mr Wilkinson’s actions.

But the judge rejected both arguments.

Judge Yelton found that, had he been successful, Mr Graham would have been entitled to £80,000 for his pain and suffering and £90,000 for lost earnings.

Challenging Judge Yelton’s ruling, Mr Graham’s barrister, Timothy Meakin, last week argued there was a “sufficiently close connection” between what occurred and the work at Commercial Bodyworks to make it “fair, just and reasonable” to find the company liable.

But Jonathan Mitchell, for the company, contended that it was an “incidental or random attack, which happened to occur on the employer’s premises”.

Lord Justice Longmore, Lord Justice Underhill and Lady Justice Sharp reserved judgement on the appeal and will give their ruling at a later date.