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Tort - Occupiers liability cases III

Updated on July 4, 2017

In Eric Glennie v University Court of the University of Aberdeen (2013) the plaintiff slipped and fell while he was playing tennis on a court owned by the defendant. There was a patch of green moss growing on the astroturf and the plaintiff slipped when he stepped on it and as a result sustained injuries. While the defendants admitted that they owed the plaintiff a duty of care, the court held that the defendants were not liable because there was insufficient evidence to establish that it was indeed the defendants’ negligence that had caused the accident. Astroturfs were naturally more slippery than other surfaces and it was up to the plaintiff to take due care. Furthermore, there was nothing to indicate that it was the moss that had caused the accident.

In Fiona Brown v East Lothian Council (2013) the plaintiff hired a hall from the town council for her dance class (zumba). She normally conducted her classes in a gymnasium but on this particular occasion the gymnasium was unavailable. The plaintiff slipped and fell while she was conducting her class and her accident was caused by the uneven flooring of the hall. The plaintiff sued claiming that the hall was not a suitable workplace and the council countered by arguing that the hall was not intended to be used as a workplace and therefore they should not be held liable or accountable. The plaintiff was unsuccessful.

In Michael Leonard v The Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority (2014) the plaintiff’s 12-year-old son was walking together with his family up a hill and after a certain point decided to walk ahead. He was walking up the steps at the time and later he was found at the foot of the hill, having fallen off while he was climbing the hill, and he sustained injuries as a result of the fall.

His father brought an action against the park authorities claiming that the steps that were provided for visitors to walk up the hill weren’t up to acceptable standards for example they were uneven, built at odd angles, inconsistent and there were no handrails that visitors could hold on to while climbing the steps or suitable fencing that could prevent a fall.

In the previous case (Fiona Brown v East Lothian Council (2013)) the plaintiff was unable to claim despite being injured in an accident that was caused by uneven flooring because the hall was not used for the purpose it was intended. Here the plaintiff’s son was injured and his injury was caused partly or partially at least by uneven steps but he was using it for the purpose that it was intended for. Would the defendants be liable in this instance?

It can be argued on behalf of the council that any visitor ought to take reasonable care while he or she was climbing up or going down a flight of stairs or a series of steps. Going back to the decision in Moira Brown v Lakeland Ltd (2012) the court decided that anyone who uses a flight of stairs or climbs up or down a series of steps has a responsibility to exercise due care and caution because the chances were high that if they were careless, an accident might result from their carelessness.

It would be entirely different if there was smidge of oil or something on the steps that had caused the plaintiff to fall as in the case Robinson v The Post Office (1974) or Ward v Tesco Stores Ltd (1976) but there was no evidence to indicate that there was some other factor that had caused the accident.

The court held that there was nothing to suggest that the defendants lack of care had caused the mishap and that the defendants did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care. The steps were an ordinary feature that were neither concealed nor unused and had become a permanent part of the landscape.

Was there a special duty that was owed to children that would not otherwise be owed to adults? In Bourne Leisure Ltd v Marsden (2009), the mother while on holiday in a caravan park was speaking to someone in the next caravan when two of her children disappeared. The boys had made their way towards a pond that was fenced off and had somehow managed to climb the fence and make their way to the pond. One of the boys aged 2½ drowned. The parents sued. The court held that children could disappear anywhere at any time and the defendants were not liable. They had to some degree taken adequate preventive measures.

© 2017 Kathiresan Ramachanderam and Dyarne Jessica Ward

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