The Outer House of the Court of Session has issued its opinion in the case of Alan Cairns v Dundee City Council

Background and facts

On Saturday 1 December 2012, Mr Cairns walked across an icy car park in Broughty Ferry, which was operated by Dundee City Council. He lost his footing on black ice, falling and sustaining a serious injury which kept him from work for several months. Mr Cairns sued Dundee City Council. When the case came to court damages were agreed at £125,000.

Mr Cairns argued that the council had a duty to take account of the weather conditions and to grit the carpark before the accident took place. He relied on Section 2 of the Occupiers’ Liability (Scotland) Act 1960.

Decision

Lord Woolman issued a short and to the point decision. He found that in applying the legislation to the facts, there were two questions for the court; was it reasonable for the council not to have a system for ice detection and treatment on Saturdays and; would such a system have prevented the injury sustained by Mr Cairns?

The pursuer’s case failed on two counts. Fiistly, the pursuer could not prove when the ice had formed and as a result he could not say what system would have prevented the accident. Secondly, the pursuer’s suggested system would have required round the clock coverage of all 28 of the council’s carparks each Saturday. Such a system failed to acknowledge the finite resources available to local authorities.

Significantly, Lord Woolman did not specifically find that such a system would have been unreasonable. Instead he was essentially unwilling to question the local authority’s prioritisation and allocation of resources

Summary – practical implications

This is an encouraging decision for local authorities. It is confirmation that the court will be slow to criticise them for the way in which they deploy their limited resources. When faced with public liability claims it is important to remember that local authorities are not under a duty to take all available steps to avoid accident or injury.