Directors and staff at firms implicated in the Office of Fair Trading bid rigging probe could be held personally liable for fines following a landmark court ruling.

The news follows an OFT inquiry that found Safeway guilty of fixing the price of dairy products. A fine of £16.4m was imposed, later reduced to £11m. William Morrisons, the subsequent owner of Safeway, began a legal action against 11 former managers for the money. The managers went to court to have the action halted, but last month a judge ruled that it could go ahead.

Lawyers said this decision could pave the way for firms implicated in the OFT bid-rigging inquiry to sue their employees.

Nicholas Heaton, a partner at Lovells, said: “It’ll be something companies will seriously consider. These are not straightforward claims to bring but the fact that the OFT has given details of the infringements and who was involved might encourage construction firms to launch claims.”

He added: “The company would have to be sure that it was worth pursuing, so only directors with insurance, which is usually only senior members in larger companies, are likely to face claims.”

Patrick Boylan, a competition expert at law firm Simmons & Simmons, said: “In theory, action could be taken against anyone, including former directors in retirement.”

Several construction firms contacted by Building declined to comment.