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Dobwell v Thanet District Council

15 September 2000
The issues

Occupiers liability – Claimant falling down a flight of stairs.

The facts

Claimant fell down a flight of stairs leading to a public lavatory late at night. The premises were locked and the stairway was unlit. The Claimant bought a claim for damages in negligence and breach of duty under the Occupiers Liability Act 1984 contending that premises had not been lit properly nor that a warning been given that the premises were closed by placing a gate across the entry. The Claimant’s evidence was that she had drunk a relatively small amount of alcohol and because of the lack of light had been unable to see the handrail that was present. She said that she “expected” the premises to be safe. The Defendant contended that the Claimant was volenti to the risk in that she used the stairs knowing they were unlit and that she was contributory negligent in that she did not look where she was going and did not appreciate from the time and the absence of light that the lavatories were closed.

The decision

The claim was dismissed. The Claimant had voluntarily accepted the risk of injury by using the stairs in the darkness and without taking proper care for her own safety. Moreover the A&E note showed that the Claimant had consumed a far greater quantity of alcohol than she admitted in her evidence which impinged upon her credibility. If the finding of the volenti was wrong the Claimant would be contributorily negligent to a high degree.

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