Court success for social housing provider after floorboard collapse

  • Maintenance worker who fell through floorboards infested with dry rot claimed housing provider should have foreseen risk
  • However, judge rules housing provider’s inspection of property was reasonable and that risk could not reasonably have been foreseen
  • Verdict provides reassurance that there is no duty to inspect under floorboards unless there is evidence of a potential defect or danger

X v Incommunities Group Limited (Huddersfield County Court)

Background

The claimant sought damages following an accident at work. The claimant was employed by the defendant to clear void properties.

On 13 July 2015, the claimant was removing a kitchen from a property. He claimed that as he was walking down the stairs the floor in the hallway gave way causing him to fall through the wooden floor. He alleged that the floor was infested with dry rot/woodworm.

The law

The claimant alleged breaches of the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 and the Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations 1992.

Legal arguments

The claimant’s central allegations were that the property was unsafe, the presence of dry rot/woodworm presented a foreseeable risk of injury and the defendant as his employer had failed to eliminate the risk. The defendant’s case was that it had a reactive system in place to respond to requests for repair and maintenance from tenants. There were no such requests or complaints. Further, the void property was visually inspected by a manager prior to any works being undertaken and no defects were identified.

Decision

The judge found that the joist beneath the floorboards was heavily infested with dry rot/woodworm and that this had caused the flooring to collapse. However, he held that the defendant had conducted a reasonable inspection of the property and this included walking around the whole property including the relevant section of floor. The defendant’s duty was not an absolute duty and the defendant could not reasonably be expected to lift and remove floorboards. The defect/danger was not identifiable on a reasonable inspection.

Commentary

This is an excellent outcome and has wider relevance for other social housing providers. A duty to inspect under floorboards when there was no other evidence of a potential defect or danger would be both onerous and impractical, particularly given the number of properties that providers are responsible for. The defendant’s system was appropriate and discharged its duty of reasonable care.

This claim was handled by Leigh Croasdell, Claims Handler in the Zurich Housing Claims Team. Our panel solicitors Weightmans LLP represented us at Court.

Summary prepared by Rachael Fawcett, Weightmans LLP