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Newman v Whitbread Plc, Court of Appeal

5 March 2001
The issues

Whether It Was Proper For The Court To Enter Judgment On Behalf Of A Claimant On The Basis Of Issues Not Advanced By Either Party (!)

The facts

The Claimant worked for the Defendant as a Chef and fell down a set of stairs. He suffered from a pre-existing condition sustained in a road traffic accident. The accident in respect of which the Claimant sued occurred on 1996. The allegations of negligence and breach based on the variations and dimensions of the risings and goings of the steps on which the Claimant fell. No additional case was advanced during the trial. At no time during the trial did the Judge raise any issue as to the steps being satisfactory for most people but not for the Claimant with her disability. The Judge found in favour of the Claimant on the grounds that the steps were unsafe as a result of that disability although they were perfectly satisfactory for most people.
The Defendant appealed on the issue of liability.

The decision

The Claimant had been unable to remember how the accident had occurred. The case was neither opened nor closed in the way that the Judge found and the way that his decision was reached came as a surprise to Counsel for both parties. This was clearly unfair on the Defendant and the judgment must be overturned. It was inappropriate to order a re-trial because of the passage of time – the Judge’s “new case” could only be established without medical evidence on both side and it was unlikely that such evidence could be gathered 5 years after the accident.

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