I recently settled a claim for an elderly client who was injured whilst shopping at a popular discount store with her granddaughter. Having paid for her goods, she was in the process of leaving the store when she tripped over a box as she walked around the back of the counter. The box containing produce had been dumped on the floor creating a hazard to unsuspecting shoppers. There were no warning signs and my poor client, who had not anticipated anything on the floor, went flying, landing on her left side, sustaining serious injuries. She was in the hospital for almost two weeks.
I was instructed a short while later and immediately sent a letter of claim to the store. I argued that as occupiers, they had failed in their duty to ensure their premises were safe for lawful visitors. The Occupiers Liability Act 1957 places a duty on occupiers of premises to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of invited visitors.
The store was installed with CCTV cameras that were supposed be in operation 24/7, including a camera in the relevant area, but they had no such evidence. Despite my client’s granddaughter being a witness to the whole incident and the lack of CCTV footage, liability was disputed. They alleged that my client could not see properly and had “stuck her leg out while going out”! They maintained that the store was subject to regular inspections and the premises were safe.
After some to-ing and fro-ing and following disclosure, it became apparent the store would struggle with their defence. They could not deny the box had been on the floor. Once I made clear our intention to issue court proceedings the store agreed to deal with the claim on a without prejudice basis, but still refused to accept the box had been the cause of the fall.
At the time of accident my client, who had been recovering from surgery to her right shoulder, suffered fractures to her left shoulder and ribs. Before the accident she was getting by using her left arm, having adjusted to using one arm with some help from her family. Following the accident, her disability was compounded and she effectively lost the use of her upper limbs. She required help with personal hygiene and activities of daily living, including cooking, cleaning and shopping. She was also unable to go out unaccompanied or to use public transport.
The store made a very low first offer, alleging my client had fallen due to her pre-existing dizziness and balance issues. They also suggested that due to her advanced age and “poor” general health, she would have in any event required the level of assistance she received following the accident. Understandably, my client and her family were very upset by these assertions; they felt that the independence she had before the accident had been taken away from her. Her confidence was shattered.
Our medical expert, an orthopaedic surgeon, was supportive and recognised that, in addition to physical pain and restrictions, my client was suffering from psychological symptoms associated with the accident. He recommended a report from a psychiatrist. He also recommended a care report and noted the need for further surgery to her left shoulder, but understood her reluctance to have that.
Realising the potential value of the claim, the store increased their offer and when that was refused they made a further increased offer. My client was by that time anxious to settle her claim and gave me instructions to negotiate a settlement without obtaining further evidence. She wanted to bring the matter to a close and move on. After further negotiations, the claim settled for a five-figure sum which my client was happy with but by no means reflected the true value of her claim.