Department of housing contractor ordered to pay damages to elderly tenant tripping over television antenna cable left lying across the walkway

Published 01 Feb 2018

Our client was an elderly lady who had been residing for some time in a housing commission residential housing block in the suburb of Gladesville being North West of the Sydney Central Business District and in the Local Government Area of the City of Ryde.  Our client had been living in the residential housing block for many years with other elderly persons.

The department of housing was vested with the care, control and management of the residential housing block. They had contracted with another company who was conducting television antenna installation activities on the premises. This was as a result of having being contracted the department of housing.

The television antenna installation business had then contracted with another sub-contractor to perform the installation works on the premises. The installation works were being performed by the sub-contractor under his own trading name. One afternoon our client was walking along the common part of the residential housing block premises when she tripped over a television antenna cable which was lying across the walkway. As a result of the accident, our client fell heavily and fractured her right hip.

Our client was immediately taken to ambulance to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital where she was x-rayed and confirmation of the fractured right hip was given and that she required a right hip replacement operation. It was essential at her age that she underwent the operation immediately.

In the meantime, as a result of our client’s accident, an investigation was undertaken by the relevant parties with respect to the circumstances surrounding our clients accident and the cause of the accident. All parties shunned away from accepting liability. Our client did not see the television antenna cable which was left lying across the walkway as she took her rubbish to the rubbish chute. There were no visible barriers or signs to warn of work being undertaken in the area and to warn of an unsafe area due to the presence of trip hazards.

We forwarded a letter of demand to a number of parties and contractors with no response and the denial of liability.

We launched legal proceedings against a number of the parties including the contractors and sub-contractors who had been contracted to undertake the work on the premises. All of them denied liability and filed Defences denying liability and placing responsibility on our elderly client who was just walking to the rubbish chute to place her rubbish on the day in question.

We were able to obtain all of the relevant invoices and contracts between the sub-contractors and who was ultimately responsible for undertaking the work.

We commissioned a liability expert report from a consulting engineer to prepare a liability expert report in the matter. The consulting Engineer was also a safety Expert and a Qualified Ergonomist and well qualified to be able to assess the liability surrounding the circumstances of our clients accident. He visited the premises where our client was injured and was provided with all information, documents and particulars, so as to provide a liability expert report in the matter.

The expert opined that the television antenna cables were being run or had fallen into areas that were not barricaded as a result having mostly elderly people walking through the common areas of the premises without any warning or barricades being present, would and could trip over a hazard created by the cabling as has occurred with our client.

The safe work method statements in the contractors documents including their minutes and contents of their toolbox meetings revealed that they should have been barricading the areas where they were working and also insuring that elderly persons in the residential housing building block were escorted out of areas where they were walking.

The expert came to the conclusion that the two ladder contractors who were contracted by the Department of Housing should have eliminated the precise of the cabling in that position by removing it before the passage way surface was traversed by our client and other persons who reside in the residential housing block. In addition, they failed to provide adequate barricading or warning as a short term temporary measure whilst the cabling was in that position. These management failures or oversights by the contactors contributed directly to our client’s trip and fall on the day in question.

In fact, the Expert went so far as to say that the last contactor who was contracted to perform the installation works on the premises was directly responsible for causing our clients accidents. The liability expert report was that brutal and clear on the negligence issue.

Accordingly, based upon the liability expert report, we focused our attention on the liability aspects of the case towards the last contractor who had been contracted to perform the installation works at the residential housing block premises when our client was injured.

In terms of the medical issues, our client underwent her right hip replacement operation at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. It took some time for her condition to stabilise to ascertain the full extent of her accident. Unfortunately  she can continued to have significant disabling problems with her right hip in the form of painful stiffness and weakness with recurrent attacks of giving way when her right hip would not support her weight and it would let her fall to the ground. As a result of such sudden falls, she sustained various soft tissue grazes and bruising in various parts of her body.

The most significant of these right hip giving way attacks happened about 1 year later when she was visiting some family friend’s house and was negotiating some steps when her right hip gave way on her and she fell down sustaining a fracture of the left hip. That required her then to undergo a left total hip replacement operation.

The medical evidence established that our client was left with significant permanent impairment in relation to her initial right hip injury and then her consequential injury to her left hip. She was left with 60% permanent loss of use of her right leg and right hip and 30% loss of use of her left leg and left hip as a result of the initial accident.

The Defendants arranged for our client to be independently medically examined and assessed. They also arranged for Occupational Therapist Assessments at home to determine the full extent of her needs in terms of domestic care and assistance and home modifications.

We claimed various heads of damages in compensation for our client including permanent impairment and pain and suffering, past treatment expenses, future treatment expenses, past domestic assistance, attendant care and home modifications and future domestic assistance and care plus legal costs.

The Court had listed the matter for Hearing for 3 days in which various liability and medical experts were required to attend to give evidence on behalf of the Plaintiff to establish the negligence and the claim on her behalf. The Court also ordered that the parties arrange for an Informal Settlement Conference for the parties to discuss the liability and medical expert issues and to see if they could narrow the issues for the Court and look into a possible settlement of the claim. This was arranged and our client attended to the settlement conference with the various parties for independent discussions concerning all aspects of the claim.

After a number of hours of discussion all the liability and medical expert issues, a number of the Defendants were removed from the discussion in that one of the contractors was determined to be at fault and held to be responsible and liable in relation to our clients accidents and her subsequent injuries, losses and damages.

None of the Defendants served any liability expert report in reply and minimal expert evidence in reply. It was clear that our client’s position would ultimately be vindicated. After a number of hours of discussion, the remaining independent contractor who had been engaged to perform the actual installation works on the premises agreed and was ordered to pay a substantial award in damages in compensation for our client’s injury losses and damages. Considering our client’s elderly age she was quite happy with the outcome of the matter finishing after her accident and her subsequent medical complications from the time of the accident until the matter was resolved. It was a tremendous outcome and settlement in favour of our client.

Conclusion:-

If you are a pedestrian, lawful entrant or resident at premises and you suffer an injury to the negligence of either one party or a number of parties who are contractors on the premises, you may be entitled to receive a substantial award in damages in compensation for your injuries providing that you can establish negligence against one or a number of parties who have caused your injury.

In this case, our client was a resident at a department of housing residential housing block where a number of contractors had been contracted to perform certain television antenna installation activities on the premises.

One of the sub-contractors was engaged to perform the installation works on the premises. Whilst our client was walking along the common part of the premises to take the rubbish to the chute, she tripped over a television antenna cable which was left lying across the walkway. As a result of her fall, she suffered a fractured right hip which required a hip replacement operation. Subsequently due to the significant disabling problems in her right hip after the operation, her right leg would give way and this resulted in her suffering a fall and fracturing her left hip which required a total left hip replacement operation.

Whilst we submitted that a number of parties were at fault in causing our clients accident, once we received all of the contractual documents, it was determined that one of the subcontractors was ultimately at fault. This was verified by obtaining the liability expert report in the matter. The liability expert determined that the contractor who was actually performing the installation works on the premises in that they were negligent in failing to take reasonable steps to ensure that the premises were free from trip hazards, failed to ensure that the cable was not left lying across the walkway, and failed to warn our client of the presence of the cable which was left lying across the walkway.

In the ultimate, prior to any formal Court Hearing in the matter, the parties arranged for an informal settlement conference and the independent subcontractor was ordered to pay our client substantial awards in damages in compensation as a result of their negligence in causing our client’s injuries, losses and damages. Our client was very well pleased with the outcome of the matter.

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