Scalded by a Duty of Care

With the summer sun a distant memory; many may be tempted to visit their local tanning salon to get their sunshine fix.

It seems logical that tanning salons have a duty to take reasonable care of their customers.  The question is, how far does this duty extend? The dangers of sunbed over-exposure are well publicised. In light of this common knowledge, are tanning salons negligent if they do not actively make each customer aware of the dangers posed by sunbeds?  These questions were recently considered by Perth Sheriff Court in the case of Andrew Donaldson v The Sun Studio.  Thorntons acted for the pursuer in this case.

What happened?

In October 2013, Mr Donaldson visited The Sun Studio. Mr Donaldson was not new to this tanning salon. He had used their sunbeds on 16 previous occasions between 2005 and 2007.  

Mr Donaldson paid for a 12-minute tanning session.  He was not asked to sign a waiver. No efforts were made to establish whether the duration of the session was suitable for him, or to ensure that he was aware of the dangers associated with sunbed usage. As a result of the 12-minute sunbed session, Mr Donaldson suffered burns to his body. He was unable to attend work for 4 days following the incident and he is now 1.5 times more likely to suffer from skin cancer in the future.

What did the Court say?

The Sheriff Court held, that by inviting customers to use the sunbed equipment, the salon accepted a duty to take reasonable care for their customers’ safety. The Sun Studio’s failure to uphold the duty of care resulted in Mr Donaldson’s injury.

The Court highlighted that the salon were aware of the dangers of over-exposure to sunbeds and had introduced “substantial and significant processes….in order to make users of their equipment aware of the inherent risks of over-exposure to sunbeds”. At the salon the normal practice was for customers to sign a disclaimer if they requested a sunbed session longer than 6 minutes. Furthermore, each customer’s details were entered into a computer system on their arrival. This system prompted the receptionist to discuss the dangers of sunbed over-exposure if the customer was new to the salon or had not used the sunbeds for some time. These standard practices were not followed on the day of Mr Donaldson’s visit to the tanning salon and injury resulted.

The Sun Studio were found to be vicariously liable for the actions of their receptionist who failed to provide proper advice to Mr Donaldson regarding the safe use of tanning equipment.

Mr Donaldson was found to have been partly to blame for his injuries, as he had previously used sunbeds and was generally aware of the risks they posed. Mr Donaldson’s compensation was reduced by 30% to compensate for his contributory negligence.

Words of warning

Negligence occurs if a person fails to take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions that could be expected to cause harm to another. It is not sufficient to exercise this duty of care partially or half-heartedly. For example, the tanning salon was unable to discharge their duty of care by merely displaying leaflets that warned of the dangers of sunbeds.  They were instead required to verbally ensure that customers understood these dangers.

Anyone in a position of responsibility, including employers, business owners and public authorities, should take note of the Court’s decision in Andrew Donaldson v The Sun Studio. To turn a blind eye to the duty of care risks the scald of negligence claims.

If you have have been affected by sunbed use in this way please contact Iona Anderson or Michelle Adam on 0131 225 8705. Alternatively, contact our Personal Injury Team who will be pleased to assist further.

Categories: Personal Injury

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