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Tread Carefully .......

Given the recent weather there has been a very high risk of slipping over and the question we are often presented with is "should the council not have gritted the pathway/public car park. Last year a case in this regard was taken to the Court of appeal: Cook v Swansea City Council [2017]. This case confirms that local authorities are not under a duty to ensure any areas they are responsible for are gritted each and every time there is a particularly cold night, it in fact confirmed that a reactive system of gritting can be sufficient in certain circumstances.

In this particular case the injured party was caused to slip and fall on ice in a car park owned by the Council. This particular car park was outside, unmanned and open 24 hours a day. The Council would not automatically grit the car park in bad weather conditions but only in reaction to reports from members of the public about potentially dangerous conditions.

In considering the duty of the Council, the Court of Appeal carefully considered the costs and resources that the council would have needed to ensure that the car park was gritted on days where there was snow and ice. The Court of Appeal considered that it would too onerous for the council to have gritted the car park on every one of these days. In addition, they also confirmed that the risk of snow and ice in cold weather was an obvious danger which people could reasonably be expected to watch out for and take care.

This case shows that just because there is ice or snow on the ground it does not mean that there are failings on the part of an occupier of land to ensure that people are reasonably safe when using their premises. Rather, the Courts will assess whether the system of gritting and inspection was reasonable in the circumstances. This judgment was fact specific and limited to the system of gritting that was reasonably required in a public car park that was unmanned and open to elements.

However, the question of what is reasonable is always dependent on the facts of the case.

Therefore in cases where the slip has occurred on land which is said to be occupied by the Local Authority, consideration needs to be given as to whether reports or complaints were made about snow or ice and whether there had been any previous accidents to be able to prove a case for liability. Also, consideration should be given to whether the car park was open to the elements, was manned or unmanned and whether it was open on a daily basis etc. It is therefore possible that there may still be a claim to make but whether that claim will be successful will require careful consideration of all the facts surrounding the location of the accident.

If a slipping case of this nature were to make it to the courts they would carry out a balancing exercise when weighing public and private interests—considering the foreseeability of injury, the activity giving rise to the risk and the costs of any preventative measures.

In this particular case, a finding of liability for injury would likely have been found had the car park been manned or had there been previous reports by members of the public in respect of icy or hazardous conditions.

It is also the case that the liability position could be different in respect of staff car parks as these areas ideally need to be risk assessed, inspected and gritted because they could be seen as traffic routes and part of an employee’s place of work.

The general principle is that occupiers have a duty of reasonable care to ensure that members of the public are reasonably safe when visiting their premises. The courts do not want to place unrealistic burdens on occupiers and will consider the foreseeability of the risk of injury, the use of the land and the costs and resources required to eliminate any potential hazard.

We regularly take instructions in connection with such accidents and will consider the merits of a case in line with decisions made by the Courts in similar cases. If you have had such an accident in the last three years which resulted in injury and are unsure as to whether you could make a successful claim, feel free to contact our personal injury department for advice.

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