Cleaner’s public liability claim rejected following trip in school

Date: Jun 17, 2015

Appellate judges have dismissed an appeal involving a cleaner who injured her knees while performing her duties at a school in New South Wales.

People who hurt themselves in public places can often make a liability claim, which may result in compensation for lost earnings, medical care and pain and suffering.

In this case, the woman tripped over a box in a classroom the school was using to store materials for a fete. The cleaner claimed either her foot or the bucket she was holding caught on the box, causing her to fall to her knees. Her right knee was particularly damaged and required an arthroscopy – a minimally invasive medical procedure used to examine joints.

On the day of the accident, the woman had entered the classroom on five previous occasions. She had also moved the box in question to clear a path while she navigated the room.

The cleaner launched a public liability claim against the State of New South Wales – as the occupier of the school – and pursued her employer for workplace injury compensation.

Public liability claim and appeal

The primary judge in her claim argued the woman's employer could not have foreseen the danger of her trip, as cleaning a classroom is not a hazardous activity and they would not have been aware of the box unless directly informed.

The State of New South Wales was also not held liable because the woman was unable to convince the court that her negligence didn't significantly contribute to the accident. Having seen the box on several occasions and moved it that day, the woman was ruled to have "misjudged where the box was and caused her own injury".

On appeal, the judges found errors in the original judge's ruling. Specifically, the Court of Appeal disputed the decision to assign contributory negligence of 50 per cent to the woman if her claim was successful, as no reasoning was given for choosing this figure.

However, the woman was unable to prove the first judge erred in his decision to not award compensation. The appellate judges therefore upheld the earlier ruling and dismissed the appeal with costs.

Cases such as this highlight the benefits of seeking out a no-win, no-fee lawyer, as your legal team will only request payment if your case is successful. They also cover many of the upfront costs of pursuing a claim.

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