Lawyers warn fleet owners of `economy class' syndrome

Fleet owners could be hit by employers' liability claims if their drivers develop deep vein thrombosis (DVT), lawyers have warned.

Last week, the RAC highlighted the danger of passengers developing DVT on trains and buses. Previously, DVT had only been associated with economy class seats on planes.

However, Janet Gray of Weightman Vizards' national transport team, said long-haul logistics firms and coach operators could also see an influx of injury claims by employees, even if they followed legal regulations on drivers' hours.

She said drivers of heavy goods and public service vehicles were allowed a maximum continuous driving time of four and a half hours. This should be followed by a rest period of 45 minutes or interspersed with three 15- minute rest breaks.

But she said three hours was the recognised safe maximum period for people to remain seated.

"Employers will need to review their practices to ensure that their drivers take their rest breaks at more regular intervals," Gray said.

"While the resulting delays to schedules or delivery targets may be unpopular, employers should weigh this up against the threat of defending a potential landmark claim, or even future legislation."

Gray said fleet operators needed to review industry best practice as a cost-effective short-term measure.

"One way of fighting the potential threat of litigation could be to introduce regular health checks to monitor the suitability of drivers for long distance journeys, bearing in mind other pre-existing medical factors," she said.

Gray said insurers should advise their transport clients on how to mitigate their risk of such claims, using the insurer's experience in other sectors.

"Although the real risk associated with DVT is small, the onus is on insurers to implement measures now and ensure their insureds have systems in place to deal with potential growth in claims," she said.