Woman fails to establish negligence in public liability claim

Date: Aug 27, 2015

People who pursue a public liability claim must show there has been a duty of care breach. If negligence is a factor, the plaintiff often receives compensation as a result.

However, not all cases end in a successful verdict for the claimant, which is why enlisting the services of experienced injury compensation lawyers is so important.

These issues were recently highlighted in a case that reached the NSW Supreme Court. A woman filed a public liability claim against the owner of an auditorium and a couple who were conducting a concert inside the building.

The plaintiff, whose children were participating in the concert, seriously injured herself after she missed a step while walking from one of the auditorium’s upper tiers to a lower level.

According to court documents, parents had been encouraged to collect their children from the stage after the event, which involved navigating a small 150-millimetre step in darkness.

She argued that while strip lighting was installed in the auditorium, the system had been switched off. The woman said the defendants were therefore negligent for failing to provide adequate lighting for the steps.

Original decision and appeal

The plaintiff’s case was initially rejected, with the first judge stating there was no evidence to support her claim that the strip lighting was switched off. In fact, three witnesses said they noticed the lighting was on before and after the woman’s accident.

Furthermore, the original judge suggested the primary reason for the fall was that the woman “was not looking where she was going”. However, despite losing the first trial, the plaintiff decided to appeal the decision.

She alleged the first judge had erred in her ruling that the lights weren’t on, but added the defendants were still negligent even if this wasn’t the case. In other words, the woman argued the step was inadequately lit even with the illumination from strip lighting.

The appellant called on an expert witness who agreed, stating people would only be able to see the strip lighting from approximately one metre away. The specialist said this would be insufficient time to navigate the step safely.

However, the appellate judges found no reasons to overrule the original decision. They said the evidence still suggested the strip lighting had been switched on at the time of the accident.

The judges added that even if the lighting was off, there were measures already in place to prevent someone sustaining injuries. This included a metal strip indicating the edge of the step and ambient lighting from the stage.

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