Teenager seeks public liability claim after falling through keg chute

Date: Jul 05, 2017

A teenager who suffered serious injuries after falling down an open manhole used for keg delivery at a hotel has pursued more than $400,000 in damages for the accident.

The girl, who was aged 16 when the incident occurred in 2015, was walking along the street and talking to her brother on the way to school. She failed to see the keg chute was currently in use and fell approximately four metres down the opening.

According to NSW District Court documents, the plaintiff suffered injuries to her back, right knee, right hip, jaw and neck. Medical evidence suggests these ailments have given her ongoing difficulty sitting and standing for long periods, as well as discomfort while eating and low moods.

The defendants in the case were the owner of the freehold land upon which the hotel is situated and the owners and occupiers of the premises itself.

Was contributory negligence a factor?

The success of a public liability claim often hinges on whether or not the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care and if this was breached.

However, the defendant argued that the risk of an accident was “obvious” and someone taking reasonable care to observe their surroundings should have spotted the keg chute.

Lawyers for the defendant claimed the girl was not looking where she was going and should have spotted the truck delivering beer barrels. They said the plaintiff had walked the same route most school days for the past three years and was aware that sometimes the hotel would leave the manhole open.

CCTV footage also showed the girl with a mobile phone in her hand, although the plaintiff rejected the defendant’s suggestion she was using it at the time of the accident – she claimed she was just holding it.

As such, the defendant said contributory negligence should reduce any damages awarded to the plaintiff, implying the girl’s inattention had been a major factor in her injuries.

The judge’s decision

Justice Francois Krunc ruled that the defendant was negligent in failing to adequately warn pedestrians of the dangers of the keg chute.

However, he acknowledged that the girl should have been more aware of her surroundings, as she knew that the keg chute was sometimes used and posed a danger.

Nevertheless, based on the girl’s age and the number of pedestrians crowding the pavement at that time, Justice Krunc felt the plaintiff was only 10 per cent contributorily negligent.

While the girl submitted a claim for $408,428, the judge felt her future earnings bid was overstated. He instead awarded the teenager $133,928, which was reduced to $120,535 due to contributory negligence.

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