Parents pursue claim after child drinks corrosive substance at BBQ

Date: Dec 18, 2017

The parents of a young child who drank corrosive liquid at a family barbecue have sued the property’s owner for negligence.

A glass containing an unidentified substance was left on a garden table, which the plaintiff – who was three-and-a-half years old – later drank from, assuming it was water.

The child’s parents claim the glass was filled with caustic soda that the premises’ owner had used to unblock the kitchen drain a few days before the barbecue.

They argued that the glass was left near the sink and later given to their son after being topped up with water.

Conflicting witness statements

The trial judge overseeing the public liability claim was faced with significant differences in witness testimonies.

While the child’s mother claimed to have seen the property owner use caustic soda to unclog the kitchen sink, the defendant denied this ever happened. He instead said he used a high-pressure garden hose to blast the pipes clear.

There were also inconsistencies in statements that the child’s uncle made. He was the tenant of the property and hosted the barbecue. The uncle stated he tasted the liquid immediately after his nephew and burned his mouth and lips.

However, the property owner’s son – who was also at the barbecue – said the uncle told him after the incident that he may have accidentally left a glass containing hydrochloric acid on the table. The acid was allegedly used to clean the barbecue.

Contemporaneous medical records support the latter theory. The attending doctors and nurses all wrote that the child had consumed acid left in a glass by the uncle, although no one could remember who provided this information.

The judge’s decision

Associate Justice Joanne Harrison ruled that the child’s parents had not adequately proven their version of events or the property owner’s negligence.

In fact, she said it was far more likely that the child’s uncle had left acid in a glass nearby after cleaning the barbecue.

The parents appealed the decision in October, but were unsuccessful, with the appellate judges agreeing with the original verdict and dismissing the claim.

Ultimately, plaintiffs must ensure their witness statements remain consistent over time to have the best chance of winning a public liability claim.

Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers are experienced personal injury experts, and we can help you gather relevant evidence to support your case. Please contact us today.

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