McHale & Co. Solicitors Blog

Slips & Trips

Tripping and slipping accidents are very common but difficult to succeed in. We all trip or slip on occasions due to nobody else’s fault but sometimes blame can be found elsewhere.

The basics and guidelines of tripping accidents were laid down in the 1970’s as a result of several claims in the Merseyside area. Courts decided that the public should not expect all footpaths to be bowling greens and we should all expect the odd imperfection. However if the imperfection was at least 1” then liability would attach to the local council highway department unless that department could show that it has a regular system of inspection and when that area was last inspected no such defect was apparent.

Sometimes tripping points grow over a period of time and the Highways department may have noted a defect which was only ½ “ on an inspection 3 months previously which has grown to over an inch in the 3 month period up to the accident. In such case, unless anybody brought the defect to the attention of the council in that period, a defence of reasonable inspection would succeed.

Since the banking crisis of 2008, the courts have become very understanding of the council’s positions financially and appear to have taken a hard attitude to such claims.

Malcolm Horner, Head of Personal Injury at McHale & Co Solicitors Altrincham, says ‘I have noticed a definite trend over my career of over 30 years for courts to be more inquisitive about tripping claims. At one time if you could prove the tripping point was at least an inch then if the general area was in poor condition you would succeed unless the judge was not satisfied that you fell where you said! Nowadays if the council highway department can cast doubt on where you fell and/or satisfy a court that when they last inspected that area, say 6 months ago, there was no such defect, then a court will often find in favour of the council and thereby safeguard public money! The reasonable inspection regime will depend upon the location but typically town/city centres are every month and residential areas every 6 months with country lanes perhaps every 12 months. Of course in residential areas there will be local people who can honestly say that a particular defect has been there for a long time and can satisfy a court of that by remembering certain incidents which help them remember how long the defect has been present.

Of course the court has to be satisfied that the claimant fell and fell where they said they did! I remember a case where a man fell in Ancoats, went to hospital, told A & E department that he had fallen but on looking at his black eyes (he had apparently fallen on his face!) put down in the accident records that he had  been involved in a fight! The court concluded that ‘the fight’ was the most likely explanation of his injuries notwithstanding witness evidence to the contrary! Contemporaneous medical records from hospital and GP are very important.

Slipping accidents on the highway are less common except in snowy conditions. Such claims are notoriously difficult to succeed in as the courts appreciate that often snow comes unexpectedly and there is little councils can do except grit the night before if they know of the risk. However I recall in January 2009 that there was a large snowfall overnight which was unexpected and many people had accidents but not due to the local Highway department according to the courts (at least I have not heard of any successful slipping cases from that period!)

Of course there are many slipping accidents in supermarkets and again the defendants have got a valid defence if they prove that they have a regular system of inspection and when last inspecting the fruit and vegetable section the banana skin was not on the floor! Again witness evidence is very important but less likely to be available.

In summary, it is difficult to succeed in a claim against the council (public money considerations) and supermarkets (lack of independent evidence) but with good legal assistance you stand a chance!

McHale & Co are an accredited APIL (Association of Personal Injury Lawyers) Practice. We are now one of only 171 firms nationally recognised (out of many thousands of firms) by the country's leading organisation in bringing claims for injured persons. I, Malcolm Horner, am one of only 153 fellows of the association.

Categories: Personal Injury

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