Considerable publicity surrounded a recent case in the High Court which concerned occupiers liability. Mark Pollock suffered serious brain and spinal injuries when he fell from the window of a friend's house (the Cahills) whilst staying there. What was unusual was that Mr Pollock, despite being totally blind from the age of 22, had forged a successful career as an athlete and adventurer becoming, amongst other achievements, the first blind man to reach the South Pole. As a result of the accident he suffered devastating injuries that left him paralysed from the waist down, wheelchair bound and in need of constant care. In recognition of the fact that he was pursuing a case against his friends the claim was limited to the indemnity limit of the home insurance policy - £2 million. It was acknowledged that on a full liability basis the claim was worth significantly in excess of this.
Mr Pollock had no recollection of how the accident occurred so it was for the judge to decide how the window had been left open; how he had fallen and whether there had been a breach of duty. The evidence was far from straightforward. It was agreed that Mr Pollock had fallen from a low casement window which had been left open. Furthermore, the judge accepted that he had no knowledge of the window's presence in the room prior to the accident. Having listened to a number of witnesses present on the night, Mr Justice William Davis concluded that the window in the bedroom had been left open by Mrs Cahill when she was making up the room because the weather had been so hot.
There were numerous competing theories about how Mr Pollock came to fall from the window, including the evidence of an ergonomist and engineer who used computer models to speculate on how the accident could have occurred. That evidence did not particularly clarify matters and the judge concluded that it was not necessary for him to know the precise manner of the fall. He concluded it occurred when Mr Pollock was trying to make his way to the bathroom having just woken up.
Having reached the above conclusions the judge considered there had been a breach of duty. The Occupiers Liability Act 1957 requires an occupier to have regard to known vulnerabilities of visitors. Although the window was not dangerous per se it did create an obvious risk for a blind man. The Cahills, as occupiers, had underestimated that risk and should have either closed the window or warned Mr Pollock of its presence and the extent of the drop below. Judgment was given in favour of Mr Pollock.