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ICL Tech Ltd & Ors v Johnston Oils Ltd [2013] CSOH 159 - 25/09/13


The pursuers, owners of a gas pipe that leaked and caused an explosion at Grovepark Mills in 2004 resulting in the death of nine people and serious injury to forty-five, sought contribution towards damages from the defender, the industrial gas supplier, under s. 3(2), Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1940. The issue was whether the common law duty of care owed by suppliers of gas to ensure the safety of people on or in the vicinity of a gas supply extends to the duty to inquire about, and give unsolicited advice concerning the investigation and maintenance of, a commercial customer's pipework.

Action dismissed. Held, inter alia: Proximity between the defenders and the injured parties was insufficient for a duty of care to arise. The defenders did not have sufficient control over or responsibility for the underground pipe. First, the pursuers were primarily responsible for the duty owed to the injured parties; secondly, although not determinative, it was industry practice to confine service of and responsibility to the equipment provided by the supplier; thirdly, it was consistent with good health and safety practice for there to be a clear delineation of responsibility at interfaces between equipment controlled by different persons; fourthly, the pursuers' had not sought advice on the condition of their pipework from the defender nor relied on the agreement to supply as an indication that the condition of the pipework was adequate. Fifthly, the pursuers' pipework had passed the leak detection and pressure tests. Sixthly, there was no direct effect. It was the pursuers' failures of duty that directly caused the tragedy.

Nor was it fair, just and reasonablenes to impose liability. Although suppliers of gas owe a duty of care to those in the vicinity of the gas tank when gas is delivered or equipment altered, as well as a duty not to supply gas when it is known that a pipe is open-ended and gas will inevitably escape, the law could not be extended to include a duty to inquire about the condition of its customer's pipework.