Unreliable witnesses sink public liability claim for stairs fall

Date: Aug 15, 2017

Once a public liability claim reaches the courts, both the plaintiff and the defendant will have gathered a large amount of evidence to support their case.

The Civil Liability Act outlines a number of conditions that claims must meet in order for the defendant to be found negligent and liable for damages. The evidence that a plaintiff presents to a judge must therefore be strong enough to satisfy the relevant criteria.

A case that recently went before NSW District Court showed how poor-quality evidence can result in an unfavourable outcome for the claimant. Let’s take a closer look at what unfolded.

Woman injured in stair fall

A woman was visiting her mother-in-law at a block of flats in Liverpool, NSW. She had dropped off her daughter earlier in the day and was coming back to collect her.

Upon leaving her mother-in-law’s flat, she was navigating down a flight of stairs when, she argued, several lights in the stairwell blew, plunging her into darkness and causing her to lose her balance. She subsequently fell down the steps to the landing.

In her claim, the plaintiff said the building’s lighting system was poorly maintained, irregularly inspected and individual lights were often faulty. She was seeking $48,500 in compensation for negligence.

The defendant, the building owner, claimed the lighting was simply on a five-minute timer that had run out while the plaintiff was using the stairs.

The company added that it was highly unlikely that several lights had blown simultaneously and/or other lighting wasn’t switched on elsewhere to prevent the accident.

Plaintiff’s witnesses cast doubt on case

Unfortunately for the plaintiff, many of the witnesses she called contradicted each other’s evidence.

There was confusion over the time of day and how dark it was; few could agree which lights were on or off before, during or after the accident; and whether the lights had blown or switched off automatically was left unclear.

One witness’s evidence that the lights turned off automatically after just one second was considered so unlikely that the judge felt his testimony was entirely unreliable.

Meanwhile, the defendant called witnesses that provided a clear and accurate description of the system of work in place to deal with lighting issues that was deemed credible.

District Court Judge Michael Wilson therefore rejected the woman’s claim, highlighting the inconsistency of the evidence provided for her case.

Are you considering making a public liability claim? Make sure you have the strongest case possible by contacting Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers.

Call us now on 1800 004 878 to book a free appointment with one of my compensation experts, or email your enquiry.