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Festive slip ups needn’t be costly this winter

Blogs13/12/2018

Festive slip ups needn’t be costly this winter

It is an important time of year for venues and those hosting Christmas parties, with the festive season now in full swing.

However, the inevitable march of Christmas is invariably accompanied by worsening weather as winter sets in. With that in mind, it is absolutely vital all businesses review their procedures for eliminating the risk of slips in icy conditions.

However, it is also important to note that a slip in untreated conditions does not automatically mean you are liable. Indeed, failure to comply with your winter procedure policy isn’t a black and white decision, as the following case we handled demonstrates.

Case details

The claimant slipped on a path on the way back to his accommodation in the early hours of the morning after attending an event at the defendant’s resort. The claimant brought a claim against the defendant for breach of duty under section 2 of the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957.

It was common ground that the defendant had not followed its own winter weather procedure as it had not checked the weather forecast earlier in the day which showed that freezing temperatures were expected.

In the hours before the accident, there was a heavy downpour of rain and a sudden drop in temperature. Ice formed on the paths and workmen were in the process of laying grit when the claimant left the venue however the path the claimant wished to follow had not been gritted.

The claimant submitted that if the gritting had begun sooner the paths would have all been treated by the time he left the venue and he would not have fallen and sustained injury. The defendant accepted that it had failed to follow the wet weather procedure but argued that if the grit had been laid earlier in the evening then it would have been washed away by the heavy rain.

The court found that the claimant had failed to show that breach of procedure played any part in this accident. The defendant had taken reasonable steps to deal with the suddenly emerging weather conditions. Furthermore the claimant was aware that the path he wished to take had not been gritted and could have waited until the workmen had gritted it.

The claimant had knowledge of the nature, extent and location of the danger and chose to walk on regardless. Once he decided to proceed, he was bound to exercise commensurate caution.

Lesson

Whilst the claimant had been exposed to a risk of slipping, he had been reasonably safe within the meaning of the duty owed to him.

The scope of the duty imposed by the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 was not expanded by the claimant’s decision to walk on the untreated ice.

Whilst the fact that the claimant knew of the risk was not sufficient to discharge the duty of care, it was a relevant factor. Steps taken by the defendant were reasonable in the circumstances and the claimant was reasonably safe for the purposes for which he had been invited onto the premises.

Comment

As this case and our recent landmark victory in Robinson v Bourne Leisure demonstrate, when dealing with a claim of this nature there is a lot of mileage to be gained from illustrating intent to comply via the instigation of a process.

When combined with the fact that a claimant assumes an element of risk via their actions, it becomes clear that, even in the season of goodwill, each case should be considered on its merits and fought if considered appropriate.