Court success: Zurich defends ceiling collapse claim

  • The claimant suffered facial injuries after a ceiling collapsed in his bedroom
  • The court rejected his assertion that the building should have been routinely inspected by a structural engineer
  • This article explains the legal arguments and the significance of the outcome for customers

Background

The claimant lived at a housing association property under licence from the owners. The insured was an organisation that provided support to vulnerable people. The ceiling of the claimant’s room is said to have collapsed, causing a laceration injury to his face.

The law

Matters were complicated by the fact the claimant lived at the property under licence rather than a tenancy agreement.

It was generally agreed, that in the absence of exclusive possession, the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 would apply. The claimant did not plead a case on notice and it remained a live issue as to whether the defect was patent or not prior to the ceiling failing.

Legal arguments

The claimant accepted in his evidence that there was no visual sign of the defect before the ceiling collapsed. He also accepted there had been regular visual inspections of the room. The argument advanced by his counsel was that there should have been routine inspections by a structural engineer to check the integrity of the building.

Decision

The judge rejected that argument, saying it imposed too high a standard on the defendants. All that was reasonably required was a visual inspection. There was also no evidence that a structural engineer would have been able to identify any defect before the accident.

Commentary

This case is a reminder that a system of inspection only needs to be a reasonable system. In the case of most defects, this will be a visual inspection system only.

This claim was handled by Vimbai Muhove for Zurich and by William Clay of Weightmans LLP. Trial counsel was James Beeton, 12KBW.

Summary prepared by William Clay.