Gillian Drysdale v Joanne Hedges: The High Court of Justice Queen’s Bench Division

The Claimant, then aged 40, suffered a fall when she was ascending a flight of steps on 5 October 2008 leading to the front door of a property she had rented from the Defendant.

Access to the front door of the property was via a concrete path leading to three steps up to the front door. The Defendant, for aesthetic purposes, had painted the steps leading up to the front door in red concrete paint.

To the left of the path a small area had been stepped down to the basement level of the property. This stepped area was separated from the concrete path by a concrete wall, behind which was an eight feet drop to the basement.

Having signed a tenancy agreement with the Defendant which began on 5 October 2008, the Claimant was moving into the property and was carrying a box up to the front steps when she slipped on the middle step and fell over the wall down to the basement level. The Claimant unfortunately suffered serious back injuries.

The Claimant brought her claim against the Defendant under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957, under the Defective Premises Act 1972 and under the common law of negligence. She alleged that the steps were unduly slippery because of the paint that had been applied by the Defendant, and that the wall was not sufficiently high / it was not provided with a sufficient guard/handrail to prevent falls.

The Defendant stated that she had not altered the steps apart from painting them and had simply painted them to improve their appearance. The Defendant had no knowledge of any previous accidents in such circumstances as the Claimant’s accident, and she was not aware of the risk that the paint would make the steps more slippery. The Defendant stated that she had never considered the risk of such a fall in all the circumstances.

The Court found on the facts that it was a dangerous drop to the basement which had been inadequately protected by the wall. However, the Court also found that the drop was not unusual for these period houses, but that a reasonable landlord ought to have realised that the drop was dangerous.

Court Findings

With regards to the Claimant’s claim under the Occupiers’ Liability Act, this was dismissed because the Claimant had taken over the tenancy at the time that the accident occurred and therefore the Defendant was not deemed to be the Occupier.

With regards to the Claimant’s claim under the Defective Premises Act, and in particular section 4 of that Act which requires a duty to repair any defect, the Court found that the Claimant would have to prove that a defect existed.  The Court found that the wall was in the same condition as when the Defendant bought the property and therefore it could not be found to be out of repair. Additionally, there was nothing wrong with the steps such that they were in a state of disrepair – the paint on the steps simply needed removing. Again, therefore, the claim brought under this statute was dismissed.

Finally, with regards to the claim under common law, the court found it would have been reasonable in all the circumstances for the Defendant to have insured that those people using the path and the steps were safe to do so. However, with regards to the drop down to the basement, because the drop pre-existed the Defendant’s acquisition of the property, the Defendant had no duty to guard against it.

With regards to the application of the paint onto the steps, the Court found that the Defendant has simply done what the reasonable man on the street would have done.

The case against the Defendant was therefore dismissed in its entirety.