Can you claim compensation from the occupier of a house if you suffer a personal injury while on their premises?
Yes you can, if you can prove negligence.
In 2015, sight-impaired athlete and adventurer Mark Pollock, who was the first blind man to reach the South Pole, suffered catastrophic brain and spinal injuries when he fell 25 feet from the window of a friend’s house. Last year he was awarded substantial compensation from the occupier after successfully bringing a claim for damages in the High Court.
A Devastating Accident
In July 2010 Mr Pollock, who had been blind since 1998, fell from an open second-floor window at the home of the defendants whilst trying to find the toilet. As a result, he sustained serious spinal and brain injuries and was paralysed from the waist downwards.
The defendants were friends of Mr Pollock and the accident occurred three weeks before he was due to marry his fiancée.
When considering his decision, Justice Davis said he was satisfied that the defendant had opened the window in the bedroom used by Mr Pollock, and that Mr Pollock had fallen through it as he was trying to make his way to the bathroom, having just woken.
He added: “He (Mr Pollock) had lost his internal compass. When he got to the window he believed that he was at the door. He had forward momentum because of that belief.”
The judge also said that he was satisfied that the defendants failed to discharge the common duty of care they owed as occupiers.
He explained: “The open window was a real risk to Mr Pollock. They created that risk.
They ought to have appreciated the risk and taken steps to prevent it by keeping the window closed or by warning Mr Pollock about it with particular reference as to the extent of the drop from the window.”
Application of the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957
The Occupier’s Liability Act 1957 states that an occupier must have regard to known vulnerabilities of visitors to his or her premises.
Section 2 (5) of the Act states:
‘The common duty of care does not impose on an occupier any obligation to a visitor in respect of risks willingly accepted as his by the visitor (the question whether a risk was so accepted to be decided on the same principles as in other cases in which one person owes a duty of care to another).’
However, for section 2(5) of the Act to apply, there had to have been a willing acceptance of the risk by the claimant. As Mr Pollock knew nothing of the open window, he could not be judged to have accepted the risk. As to contributory negligence, Mr Pollock had not failed to take reasonable care of his own safety, and there was no evidence of him sleepwalking, as suggested by the defence.
Mr Pollock restricted his damages claim to the limit of his friends' insurance policy, so they would not have to pay anything personally.
Consequences of the Decision
The judgment makes clear that occupiers must consider the safety of visitors to their property and ensure appropriate measures are taken to prevent injury occurring or face a claim for compensation. Therefore, if you have been injured at someone else’s home it is imperative to seek legal advice immediately to ascertain whether negligence on the part of the occupiers contributed to your trauma.
At IBB, our personal injury team, led by Malcolm Underhill, has the expertise and experience to advise and represent you if you wish to make a claim for personal injury against the occupier of a property. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at email@example.com or fill in our contact form. Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence.