English Heritage has successfully defended a claim arising from a visitor tripping on a mobility ramp installed at Brodsworth Hall, a Grade 1 listed property in South Yorkshire .
This case all about ramps and handrails and it is helpful to have a Court case giving guidance on this subject.
The Claimant visited Brodsworth Hall in May 2019 with her husband who had mobility issues. Having completed their visit they decided to return to the site entrance using the courtesy buggy. This operated regularly throughout the day and dropped off and picked up from outside the tearoom. The entrance to the tea room was 30 cm above ground level and a ramp with steps are provided access. The ramp is approximately 4 metres in length and has a raised edge on both sides approximately 4 cm in height to ensure mobility devices are not accidently pushed off the side. The issue for the Court was it did not have a handrail installed and the raised edge was not highlighted.
The Claimant alleged that she waited in the tearoom entrance for the courtesy buggy. When it arrived she walked from the doorway towards the buggy and tripped on the raised edge of the ramp, falling off and suffering a fractured shoulder. A serious injury for anyone, here an important claim for the claimant who was at a time in her life where recovery from such an injury was unlikely.
The Claimant said English Heritage was in breach of its duties under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 as it had failed to install handrail and failed to highlight the top of the raised edge so it could be highly visible and seen and failed to warn the Claimant of the tripping hazard presence with warning signage or stickers or glow paint and failed to carry out a full risk assessment of the ramp.
The Claimant was unable to recall the presence of the steps in front of the ramp, this was important. At the time she was following her husband leading to this claim, but could not recall the route taken or explain how she was going to get to the buggy using the steps or at the time using the ramp or how she would at time to step off the ramp. All she was able to say was that she was looking where she was going and was on the ramp when she caught her foot and tripped off it leading to this injury claim.
The Insurance Company for English Heritage argued there were other people on the ramp and at the time the Claimant was rushing to catch up with her husband. The eye witness recalled that the Claimant was in the process of trying to pass another visitor on the ramp but could not recall whether the Claimant had stepped off it or tripped on the edge. The witnesses confirmed that this was a busy, high footfall area and the ramp had been installed for a long time prior to this claim i.e. over ten years with no other reported accidents The raised edge was there to be seen at the time of the accident leading to this claim and the ramp had been in two risk assessments done prior to the time of this claim.
The risk assessments said that the ramp was a possible tripping hazard but all reasonable measures had been taken to ensure the reasonable safety of visitors. Claim being made at the time but a lack of previous incidents and the fact that fixing a handrail would be problematic because of the ramps’ prominent location. After this claim was made and some time after changes made included the raised edge being painted and high backed benches being placed to act as barrier. These actions timed after the claim were not sufficient to establish liability.
The Claim failed and the Court said there had been no breach of duty. There was no absolute duty on the part of English Heritage to keep all visitors completely safe at all times and to prevent all claims. The duty was to take reasonable steps to see that visitors were reasonably safe. On the evidence the Defendant had done so.
Of particular note taken by the Court about this claim was for the time very high footfall at the premises and that there had been no reported incidents in the past ten years. The Court was not satisfied that signage or painting the edge would have prevented the accident happening. The Claimant was occupied on getting to the buggy and was not mindful of what was going on around her at the time when she tripped on the edge leading to this claim for damages. In the circumstances the Claimant had failed to prove breach of duty or causation.
What can we learn from this timely case when making a Claim in time for any public place accident?
- A lack of previous accidents in an area of high footfall is important and can affect your ability to claim in a timely manner and chances
- It must also be considered whether a claim would have been brought to the attention of the Occupier at the time, if it did occur
- Context is important when considering what are appropriate control measures. At the time of this claim the Claimant was in a listed buildings when the balance of risk and looks becomes more important. What would be appropriate on commercial premises would not necessarily be so on a building of Architectural relevance
- Even if there has been a breach of duty the Claimant must still prove that the actual breach at the time caused the accident and claim.
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