Public liability claims can result in compensation for people who suffer injuries as the result of someone else’s negligence. While most individuals are aware that damages can be awarded for accidents in public places, such as supermarkets and restaurants, it is less commonly known that plaintiffs can claim for injuries suffered on private properties.
One recent example that went before the NSW Supreme Court’s Court of Appeal demonstrated how public liability claims can play out before a judge. In the case, a man had previously been awarded $425,000 after he suffered injuries to his back and chest following a fall through a glass balustrade at a friend’s home.
The plaintiff had been attending a party at a couple’s property when he claimed he leant on the balcony to steady himself. However, the structure collapsed under his weight and he fell from the first floor to the ground floor.
According to the trial judge, the defendants had owed the man a duty of care while he was in their home, which they had breached because they were aware of safety issues with balustrade. The couple had received a building inspection report when they bought the home eight years before the accident that highlighted corrosion on the lugs and posts of the balcony.
The couple decided to appeal the decision, as they believed the judge, Justice Leonard Levy, had erred in several important areas when making his ruling.
First, they suggested he had unfairly dismissed the evidence of two witnesses to the accident who claimed the plaintiff had tripped before falling through the balustrade. Justice Levy suggested that the witnesses had “tailored” their statements to exaggerate the force in which the plaintiff was said to have hit the balustrade.
Second, the appellants said the judge failed to address the evidence of the property owner’s wife, who argued there was only surface rust on the posts of the balcony. A decorator who had removed the rust and repainted the area a few years before the accident corroborated this evidence.
As such, the coupled believed the judge’s assumption that the balustrade had collapsed due to extensive corrosion was not backed by available evidence.
The appellate judges agreed with the couple’s appeal and dismissed the original $425,000 public liability claim. Specifically, they said Justice Levy “was not entitled to reject the evidence” of key witnesses without adequate supporting reasons.
This case indicates the complex nature of the claims and appeals process, which is why it’s important to contact an experienced compensation lawyer to discuss your options before proceeding to a trial.