A pedestrian who suffered fractures to her right ankle and knee when she tripped on the edge of a path has been awarded £30,000 in damages from her local authority.
The 60-year-old woman had been visiting her elderly parents in council-owned sheltered accommodation. She had taken just two or three steps when she lost her footing owing to a difference in height between the tarmac surface of the path and the grass verge. She landed heavily on her right side and her knee struck a raised manhole cover. She needed extensive treatment for her injuries, suffered chronic pain and was off work for a year.
A judge upheld her claim after finding the council liable for the accident. However, the damages award was reduced by 50 per cent for contributory negligence because the accident could have been averted had the woman been paying proper attention.
In challenging that ruling before the Court of Appeal, the council argued that the judge had 'fallen into the trap' of examining the case with the benefit of hindsight. The council had in place a regular system of footpath inspections and everything reasonable was done to ensure that the area was safe for pedestrians.
However, in rejecting the council's appeal, the Court found that the danger was plain to see and had been present for some time. In the circumstances, it was reasonably foreseeable that someone would step off the pavement in the way that the woman did. The judge's decision 'could not be faulted' and the local authority was also ordered to pay the woman's £40,000 legal costs.
Having in place a system of inspection for identifying potential hazards to the public is not in itself sufficient to enable a landowner to defeat a personal injury claim. The system must be shown to be effective.