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Tristan Hallam on Slipping Accidents - No Change In The Law Then?

By Principal Lawyer, Occupiers and Public Liability

I was successful recently in the Court of Appeal.  I had lost at first instance in the County Court in October of last year.  The accident involved an injury on board a ship. My client had slipped in a self service restaurant. She had slipped on water. It was accepted that water was present on the floor. I had witnesses to confirm the same.  The incident arose around whether the Defendant could establish that the water must only have been there for a very short period of time such that any system of inspection that they had to clear up any spillages (which was certainly a foreseeable hazard since the spillage occurred next to a drink station serving tea, coffee and water) was present for such a short period of time that the Defendant could not be criticised.  The Defendant had the burden of establishing how long the water is likely to have been present, and if they could not establish how long the water had been present, that they had a reasonable system of dealing with such spillages.  Simply put, the parties generally cannot establish how long water had been present. This is far from unusual. Unless someone steps over a spillage and makes a note of when this was and then makes a further mental note of when an accident occurred thereafter, it is extremely unlikely that any party will be able to establish how long a spillage had been on the floor prior to an accident occurring as a result.  It is therefore for the Defendant to show that they had a reasonable system of inspection at the time to deal with such spillages and that this system was working appropriately.  If the Defendant does show that they had a reasonable system in place, they need to establish that it had not failed on that occasion.  The difficulty in this case was that the Defendants failed to establish evidentially, that the system that they say was in place was in fact occurring at the time.  Instead they adduced evidence from witnesses who had not been on board ship at the time and therefore could not reasonably establish what the system was at the time. Their evidence of what is likely to have been the case simply did not carry the appropriate weight. The Court of Appeal where absolutely right in their assessment. I would certainly hesitate to suggest otherwise. They dealt with the appeal in an extremely reasonable and appropriate manner and allowed the Defendant/Respondent on the appeal, to come up with explanations as to why the burden should not shift to them and indeed that they had complied with their duty. The Defendant/Respondent failed to establish this and therefore quite rightly lost on the appeal. Not ground breaking law by any means but certainly what I anticipate would be a very solid Judgment dealing with the law as it stands.  Tristan Hallam is a partner in Personal Injury in the London office of Russell Jones & Walker.If you or a member of your family has suffered an accident or injury call our expert personal injury solicitors on 0800 916 9046, fill in our short online claim form or email enquiries@slatergordon.co.uk and one of our specialist personal injury team will review your compensation claim for free.

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