Mother wins public liability claim after balustrade collapse

Date: Feb 17, 2017

New South Wales District Court has ruled in favour of a woman who launched two public liability claims following the collapse of a balustrade at her recently purchased home.

The plaintiff’s daughter had been playing on an outside balcony area when she fell through the balustrade down to a pool area. The girl suffered a fractured skull and bleeding on the brain, resulting in ongoing behavioural and cognitive issues.

The mother pursued damages both on behalf of her daughter and for personal injury to herself in relation to mental harm from the accident, including a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and loss of confidence.

Due to her high-profile job as a lawyer, the plaintiff’s confidence issues had a profound impact on her career, resulting in time away from work and less strenuous cases when she returned to her job.

Who was liable?
The accident occurred on the first day that the plaintiff’s children were in the new home and while her daughter was playing with friends on the balcony.

She argued that the defendant, a building inspector hired to analyse any defects in the property, had been negligent in failing to spot obvious problems with the balustrade, including rust and weak fastenings.

The plaintiff said that while she would have still moved into the property if she’d been warned of the balustrade, she would have insisted on repair work being completed ahead of her arrival due to her having children.

The defendant had no recollection of inspecting the home and was only able to provide evidence on his typical routine for checking properties, which would include applying pressure to balustrades to ensure they were secure.

However, police officers on the scene checked the balcony and immediately saw problems with its safety. For example, the screws holding the structure in place had rusted greatly since they were installed more than 20 years prior to the accident.

Public liability claim decision

The judge ruled in favour of the plaintiff and her daughter, noting that the defendant had been negligent in its duty of care by failing to identify the deterioration of the balustrade.

Only the plaintiff’s damages were covered in the ruling, which included $70,000 for past economic losses, $48,500 for non-economic losses due to mental harm and more than $7,000 in past out-of-pocket expenses.

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