Court Appeal Judgement: Not every accident has to be the fault of another

Zurich Municipal today welcomes the unanimous Court of Appeal judgment of ‘Edwards v London Borough of Sutton’.

The appeal successfully challenged the notion that local authorities or occupiers of land should be responsible as well as financially liable for individuals injured whilst lawfully visiting their premises, irrespective of the actual cause.

In an unfortunate 2010 accident, Mr Edwards was awarded damages for serious injuries sustained in a fall from a small ornamental arched bridge in a public park in Sutton, South London. The precise cause of Mr Edwards fall was never ascertained and the bridge had existed for decades, without reported accident

Mr Edwards made a compensation claim against the London Borough of Sutton (Sutton) and Zurich Municipal instructed Clyde & Co. to represent and defend the council.

  • Mr Edwards’ argued that no reasonable care had been taken to ensure he was safe in using the bridge, such as the addition of side protection bars and suitable warnings of alternative routes
  • Mr Edwards also argued that there had been a failure to risk assess the bridge which would have revealed the “foreseeable” risk of a person falling and that serious injury was therefore “foreseeable” as a result of such a fall
  • Sutton countered that the bridge was in no way unsafe to cross, it required no adaptations and no risk assessment would have prevented the incident
  • In the first instance judgment was given in Mr Edwards favour but with a reduction of 40% from his damages to reflect his own responsibility in not taking sufficient care
  • An appeal was heard on 12th October and the Court of Appeal handed down their unanimous judgment. The case was dismissed.

John Latter, Technical Claims Director at Zurich comments: ‘This decision is a victory for common sense. It was gratifying to see the judgement challenged and a local authority spared of financial pay-out it was not liable for – this decision will go a long way to protect already stretched council budgets.

‘When an unfortunate accident occurs there isn’t always someone else to blame, indeed, from a liability point of view local authorities or occupiers of land should not always be held responsible for accidents befalling visitors – individuals must make their own informed judgements. In this case, the utilising of unnecessary, cost prohibitive and unsightly warning signs may not even have prevented what was ultimately no more than an unfortunate accident.’

Nigel Adams, Partner at Clyde & Co LLP concludes:Our appeal was heard before Lady Justice Arden, Lord Justice Lewison and Lord Justice McCombe and the judgment to allow our appeal was unanimous. Although tragic for Mr Edwards this is an entirely right and proper decision. To quote Lord Justice McCombe “not every accident, even if it has serious consequences, has to have been the fault of another”.