Trip and/or slip – reasonable system

Lord Ericht issued his Opinion in Caroline Anderson v Ocean Terminal Ltd (2018) CSOH 74.

The Pursuer (Claimant) sued on the basis that she slipped and fell and was injured in the Defenders’ Shopping Centre. She claimed that an “A” frame plastic Wet Floor sign had collapsed because its hinge was broken and was therefore flat on the floor. She had stood on it, it had slipped and she had fallen. The Defenders were said to be aware that the sign had collapsed and couldn’t stand up on its own.

She gave evidence which included reference to a perspex box. Having slipped on the sign, she said she then went over her ankle onto the box which was about 1.5 metres away.

The Defenders led evidence from the Pursuer’s brother-in –law. He had been with the Pursuer and was going up stairs. He heard a crash although didn’t see the accident itself. He said that the sign had fallen over folded and had not collapsed to its full length. He didn’t see any Perspex box.

The Centre Security Manager attended following a radio call and spoke to the brother-in-law who told him that the Pursuer had walked into the sign. She hadn’t seen it.

He said there was no Perspex box although the Pursuer told him that that she had fallen on the sign which was over a Perspex box. What she told him was recorded in the incident report. Lord Ericht noted that her description of the position of the box was not consistent with her evidence.

The Manager said he had picked up the sign and put it in the cleaning cupboard. The hinge was not broken.

Lord Ericht preferred the evidence of the Pursuer’s brother-in-law and the Security Manager which he considered was credible and reliable. He found that the Pursuer’s case as averred had not been proved.

The sign was in position as a result of a roof leak and it was submitted this leak created a foreseeable risk of injury due to the presence of water. The Defenders argued that they had a maintenance contract with a Contractor and had a system in place to deal with the leak. Detailed evidence was given by the Shopping Centre Manager about the leak, the attempts to trace it from one of 30 roof smoke vents and the lack of success in so doing.

Lord Ericht said that he considered reasonable care had been exercised in attempting to rectify the leak.

The Pursuer submitted that the danger of the roof leak had been replaced by the hazards of the A frame and the container, ie. the perspex box. The container was a tripping hazard and the A Frame a potential hazard. The frame was capable of collapsing (even if it wasn’t defective) and the likelihood of a collapse was high.

His Lordship took the view that the Defenders operated a reasonable system based on the evidence he had heard about that system. This included an inspection and patrol system and details of actions taken to remedy the position if a sign had fallen over.

The Defenders were absolved from any liability to the Pursuer.

This case is notable for 2 reasons:

  • Firstly causation was relevant. The Pursuer failed to prove the necessary link between the accident circumstances and the Defenders’ responsibilities. To a considerable extent this failure was due to her version of what occurred being rejected by the Court.
  • Secondly, what is said in respect of a reasonable system is a useful guide for anyone who owns or controls a public space, whether that be a Shopping Centre, Entertainment Venue or similar.

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