Court Success: A claimant's lack of evidence

  • Zurich Municipal welcomes the court success of Sophie Quinn v St Helens Metropolitan Borough Council (St Helens County Court)
  • A claimant is required to identify both the specific defect that allegedly caused the accident and also prove that it constituted a danger
  • The defendant was not liable for injuries sustained by the claimant when she fell on an unadopted footpath

Background

The defendant highway authority was not liable for injuries sustained by the claimant when she tripped and fell as a result of a defect located on an unadopted footpath.

The law

The claimant alleged that she was walking along a footpath covered in snow when her foot entered a defect causing her to suffer an injury to her ankle. The claimant’s primary case was that the defect amounted to a breach of section 41 of the Highways Act 1980. She alleged that the footpath was in a poor state of repair generally and said that it was well used by pedestrians as it ran alongside a public house and through to nearby fields. The footpath in question did not form part of the adopted highway network although the council accepted that it was nonetheless maintainable at public expense. The council put the claimant to strict proof as to the cause of her accident and highlighted in its defence that the medical notes recorded that the claimant had “slipped on ice”. In relation to the location of the accident, the council contended that the path was not frequently used by pedestrians. Rather, it was an informal footpath that walkers used to access the nearby rural fields and the standard of repair required for the footpath was lower than one could reasonably expect for the established pedestrian highway network. .

Decision

The claim was dismissed. Following the claimant’s evidence the trial judge was asked to make a ruling as to whether the claimant had proved on a balance of probabilities that she had tripped as a result of the defect in question. The judge noted that none of the claimant’s witnesses had seen the claimant fall and therefore could not assist the court with the cause of the fall. In terms of the claimant’s own evidence there were a number of inconsistencies. She was only able to point to a general area on the footpath rather than a specific defect. In light of this, and having regard to the contradictory medical records, the judge concluded that the claimant could not discharge the burden of proof as to the cause of her fall. The claim therefore fell at the first hurdle.

Commentary

This is yet another Highways success for Zurich and our customers which demonstrates our commitment to defending the correct cases at trial in a qualified one way costs shifting era. As well as being a welcome reminder as to the burden that rests on a claimant in terms of her factual case, there is also a further and important evidential point here. Highlighting the generally poor condition of an accident location is not enough. A claimant is required to identify both the specific defect that allegedly caused the accident and also prove that it constituted a danger.

This claim was handled by Dawn Thwaites in our Leeds Casualty Claims Team. Our panel solicitors Weightmans represented us at Court.