Personal injury damages awarded after fall at Banchory residential housing complex

Personal injury damages awarded after fall at Banchory residential housing complex

A 52-year-old woman who fell down a concrete staircase outside a residential housing complex in Banchory has been awarded £17,000 in damages after a personal injury sheriff ruled that the company responsible for maintaining the staircase had acted negligently.

Karla Hodgson sustained a traumatic anterior dislocation of her right shoulder which required surgery to reduce as a result of the accident. The defenders, Castlehill Housing Association Ltd, accepted that they owed a duty of care in terms of the Occupiers’ Liability (Scotland) Act 1960 but denied that the staircase was dangerous.

The case was heard by Sheriff Douglas Keir in the All-Scotland Sheriff Personal Injury Court. Middleton KC appeared for the pursuer and Laing, advocate, for the defenders.

Unaware of complaints

On 17 December 2016 at around 8pm, the pursuer was walking home via a footpath at the side of a residential housing complex at Shaw’s Court, Banchory, owned and operated by the defenders. She required to descend a set of six concrete steps with a tubular steel handrail that was only partially lit at the top by a street lamp that was the responsibility of the local council. The pursuer had used the stairs on other occasions prior to her accident.

The handrail only extended as far as the second bottom step. When the pursuer reached the end of the handrail, she assumed she had reached the bottom of the stairs. Due to the darkness, she did not see that there was one further step and lost her footing, falling down the remaining step and onto the landing. She was found by a passerby, David Thomson, and later taken to A&E. As a result of her injuries, she became at increased risk of developing osteoarthritis in her right shoulder.

Following the pursuer’s accident, the defenders installed dedicated lighting for the stairs at the cost of approximately £300. Other than the accident, they were unaware of any complaints concerning the stairs since their construction. It was the pursuer’s case that the defenders ought to have been aware that the staircase would be dangerous if used by pedestrians outside of daylight hours and that they had actual knowledge of the state of illumination prior to installing the new light in the form of inspections of the property.

For the defenders, it was submitted that the pursuer had failed to prove that her fall had been caused by the lighting conditions on the stairs and her assumption that she had reached the bottom step. The stairs could not have been classed as an obvious danger as they had been used by residents of Shaw’s Court, some of whom were elderly, for 20 years prior to the accident without incident. In the event that liability was established, it was submitted that contributory negligence should be assessed at 40 to 50%. Quantum was agreed by the parties at £17,000 with interest should the pursuer be successful.

Obvious precaution

In his decision, Sheriff Keir said of the evidence led for the pursuer: “I found all of the witnesses led on behalf of the pursuer to be generally credible and reliable. I reject the defenders’ criticism of the pursuer and Mr Thomson. Both gave their evidence in a straightforward and honest manner. The pursuer maintained a consistent position regarding the mechanism of, and reason for, her accident. Contrary to the suggestion made by the defenders, I did not consider that there was any material discrepancy between her evidence and what had been recorded by medical staff in the A&E records.”

In contrast, he said of the evidence of the defenders’ building services officer Mr Beedie: “While most of his evidence was given in a straightforward manner, he was dogmatic in his assertion that the stairs were not dangerous because he had been able to use them without incident and became evasive when pressed about the need for dedicated lighting at the stairs notwithstanding his acceptance that stairs in darkness could be hazardous. His attempt to categorise the stairs as not hazardous because they were simply dark as opposed to ‘dark dark’ was odd and unconvincing.”

Assessing the cause of the accident, the sheriff said: “Having heard the evidence, I have concluded that the lighting on the stairs was inadequate and constituted a danger. The fact that the level of illumination fell significantly below the level contained within the British Standard only strengthens that conclusion.”

He went on to say: “The obvious precaution for the defenders to take was the installation of a dedicated light, as they had done at some point following the accident. Against this background, I conclude that a reasonable occupier in the position of the defenders would have installed a dedicated light for the stairs. I, therefore, conclude that the defenders have not taken care as in all the circumstances was reasonable to see that the pursuer did not suffer injury or damage as a result of the danger caused by the inadequate lighting and, as such, have breached section 2 of the 1960 Act.”

Sheriff Keir concluded: “The onus lies on the defenders to prove that the pursuer’s actions fell below the standard of a reasonable person in the position of the pursuer. I accept the pursuer’s evidence that she was descending the stairs carefully, one step at a time, while holding onto the handrail. She was unable to see where to place her feet due to the poor lighting conditions. I, therefore, do not consider that any reduction for contributory negligence would be appropriate.”

Decree for £17,000 was therefore granted in favour of the pursuer.

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