Highway authorities and private landowners alike are under a legal duty to address tripping hazards so that pedestrians can move around in reasonable safety. As a High Court ruling recently reviewed by Ayah Masri made plain, however, that is not a counsel of perfection.
The case concerned a 64-year-old woman who suffered a nasty fall whilst making her way back to her car after purchasing a newspaper from a local shop. She launched a personal injury claim against the owner of the shop’s forecourt and the local highway authority, which was responsible for maintaining the adjoining pavement.
Ruling on the matter, the Court found that she tripped over a depression close to a white line that marked the border between the forecourt and the pavement. On the basis of expert evidence, it concluded that the depression was a maximum of 27 millimetres in depth and had a minimum diameter of 500 millimetres.
Dismissing the woman’s claim, the Court noted evidence that the depression had been present for almost five years prior to her fall. The area was a busy pedestrian thoroughfare, yet there was no record of any previous complaints concerning the depression or any other accidents of a similar nature.
The depression was not particularly significant and the highway authority’s code of practice indicated that it would not have been viewed as a defect requiring remedial action. There was no requirement to maintain the forecourt or pavement in a perfect condition, without any slightly raised edges or depressions.
The Court noted that it would not be realistic or practicable to impose such a high standard of care. At the time of the accident, the forecourt was reasonably safe for pedestrian use. The pavement was not in a dangerous condition and was reasonably passable by those making ordinary use of it on foot.
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