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Ronald Moore V Devon County Council, Exeter County Court, 21 September 2012

28 September 2012
The issues

OLA – occupiers liability – fall

The facts

The claimant brought a claim for personal injury against his employer, Devon County Council, following a tripping accident that occurred on 13 October 2008.

The background to the claimant’s case is that during the evening he was enjoying a cigarette on the outside terrace of the Coaver Club (a private club primarily used by Devon Council employees and their families) when he stepped backwards and tripped over a plant pot which caused him to fall 47 cm (18 ½ inches) on to the cricket outfield area upon which the terrace overlooked.

The claimant sustained a concussion type head injury with a laceration across the forehead requiring 18 stitches. The claimant was left with a Y shaped scar measuring 3cm x 2cm x 2cm. The claimant also suffered psychiatric harm in the form of a mild depressive disorder with a recommendation the claimant undergo 12 sessions of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

The main allegations against Devon County Council were brought under section 2 of the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 and a failure to ensure visitors were reasonably safe in using the premises. The claimant’s case was that the lighting on the external terrace area was inadequate and had been reduced by the introduction of an advertising banner which obscured some of the external lighting from the building reducing illumination of the terrace. A second argument concerned the failure to provide an adequate railing or barrier around the terrace area because of the danger caused by the difference in height between the terrace and the outfield below.

The claim was defended on the grounds that the claimant was an employee of Devon County Council (although not working when the accident occurred) and had been employed as a member of staff of the club since 2005. He was very familiar with the layout of the terrace area. It was disputed that the banner affected lighting in the area where the claimant’s accident occurred. The defendant also relied upon the fact that plant pots placed on the edge of the terrace formed an obvious barrier between the terrace and the surrounding area and these formed a more effective barrier than a handrail. There was no record of any previous similar accidents in the past or since the claimant’s accident. The claimant accepted evidence from the medical records that he had drunk six pints of beer prior to the fall. The claimant was unable to explain exactly how it was that he came to fall over the plant pot that was behind him.

The decision

The claimant had been unable to produce any witness evidence supporting his view that the lighting was inadequate. The claimant’s own witnesses who saw him fall had no concerns about the lighting on the terrace area or felt that the lighting was any less bright than usual.

The court decided that there was no evidence that the lighting was inadequate or that there was an obligation on Devon County Council to fit a handrail or barrier between the terrace and the outfield area. The claimant’s case was dismissed with judgment for the defendant.

For further information please contact Richard Johnson
(richard.johnson@brownejacobson.com) or Charlie Woodhouse (woodhouse@oldsquare.co.uk)

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