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Public Liability Recent Cases

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Case Background and Issues at Trial Type of Accident Damages
Rodd v Hall [2019] NSWSC 1304

A female using a motel shower was able to establish negligence against the owners/managers of a motel for a slip and fall due to the danger of wet tiles in an unexpected location.

The issues were whether the owners of the motel owed a duty of care, if a negligent act had occurred to breach that duty and whether any such negligence had caused any injury, damage or loss to the plaintiff.

The Court accepted that given the risk of slips from water, the owners of the motel could have taken further precautions to prevent slips at a low cost.

The Court found the plaintiff had failed to keep a proper lookout for water on the tiles or take reasonable care for her own safety, reducing the Plaintiff’s damages by 20%.

Injury to hip, Accommodation
$470,690.92 (Reduction of 20% for contributory negligence)
Newport v Li & Anor [2022] NSWDC 8

The plaintiff was in a public market area when the same time, the second made inadvertent, but forceful physical contact with her from behind, with a box of fruit causing the plaintiff to fall to the ground and suffer injuries.

The force of that contact was sufficient to unbalance the plaintiff, which caused her to fall forward. As a result of the fall the plaintiff suffered significant physical injuries.

The relevant issues were the identification of the relevant risk of harm, the duty of care owed to the plaintiff, whether that duty had been breached and if the injuries suffered were a result of the negligence of the defendant.

The Court found that but for the negligence of the second defendant, the plaintiff’s injury would not have occurred.

Fall, Inadvertent Injurious involving contact between individuals in a public place, failure to keep a proper lookout
$252,376
Russell v Carpenter [2022] NSWCA 252

In Neil Carpenter v Damian James Russell [2021] NSWDC 447 a male sustained an injury after falling down a set of stairs at a short-stay holiday rental property with the Court awarding $284,092.

The matter was appealed with the Court providing the following reasoning.
First, the duty owed by occupiers to lawful entrants is, ‘to take reasonable care to avoid a foreseeable risk of injury’, not an obligation to prevent harm.

Second, whilst there may be a not insignificant or foreseeable risk of an individual slipping and suffering an injury that attaches to the majority of stairs, “The law does not require that resources be spent on risks such as those at issue here which are slight, inherent and obvious.”

Third, even if the installation of a handrail ‘could have assisted in either preventing or mitigating’ the fact a risk existed for a person to slip or hurt themselves did not of itself establish causation.

The original decision was overturned with the previous damages struck out, confirming the requirement for a property owner to have a handrail on the outside of every stair, or to warn of an obvious risk is not an obligation but rather should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Slip, fall, stairs – occupiers' liability, Airbnb
$284,092 overturned on appeal
Townsville City Council v Hodges [2023] QCA 136

The plaintiff attended a park and fell as the result of her foot stepping into a concealed hole, suffering a spiral fracture of her left mid-shaft tibia, distal fibula and medial malleolus.

At issue was whether a concealed hazard as the council could only be liable for those hazards which it knows or ought to have known existed. Further, whether the council had taken reasonable inspections of the park to identify hazards.

The Court ruled that the Council had taken reasonable precautions in the circumstances to detect hazards overturning the original decision.

Slip, trip, fall, Parks, Public Space
Original decision of the Judge was set aside, and the claim was dismissed
James v USM Events Pty Ltd [2022] QSC 63

The plaintiff suffered physical injuries, including cervical spine and lumbar spine injuries, and psychological injuries when participating in a sports event, due to a collision with a para-athlete in a wheelchair while competing in a duathlon organised by the defendant.

Issues were whether risk of injury to participants was foreseeable and if so what reasonable responses had been put in place to the identified risk.

Collision, Sports event
$1,062,351.20
Blue OP Partner Pty Ltd v De Roma [2023] NSWCA 161

The plaintiff whilst walking on a concrete pathway tripped on a steel utility pit lid.

The plaintiff was initially awarded damages reduced at 20% for contributory negligence.

On appeal, the Court found that to a reasonable person the steel pit lid in the footpath would have been obvious and it may be reasonable that there were uneven surfaces that could present a trip hazard.

As the risk was obvious there was not a duty of care to warn of the risk.

Trip, fall, Concrete footpath, Inspections of public infrastructure
Original decision of the Judge was set aside, and the claim was dismissed
Cullen v State of New South Wales [2023] NSWSC 653

The plaintiff was injured whilst attending a protest gathering.

A police officer moved through the crowd chasing after an individual, knocking the plaintiff to the ground with her head striking the ground.

Court affirmed the police acted recklessly or unreasonably, whilst owing a duty of care to other individuals in the crowd whilst exercising their duties.

Negligence or conduct causing injury, breach of duty of care
$800,000
Martin v. Amaca Pty Ltd & Ors (No 2) [2023] VSC 319

The plaintiff sought damages from the Scouts and St Bede’s (Where the scout hall was located) towards the plaintiff’s judgment and costs (previous asbestos exposure from house renovations) alleging he was also exposed to asbestos dust and fibres when he attended Scout meetings at the hall.

Circumstantial evidence was provided suggesting asbestos located in the hall had been disturbed.

The Court was not persuaded that on the balance of probabilities his exposure was at the scout hall as against his home renovations and the claim for contribution was dismissed.

Asbestos exposure, public place
Claim for contribution from other parties was dismissed