Mr R had been living in a council property that was let to his mother under a tenancy agreement. He was one of the named occupants. There was an express term in the tenancy agreement that the local authority, in accordance with its statutory obligations under section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, “keep in repair the structure and the exterior of the dwelling”. This extended to keeping the windows of the property in good repair and properly maintained.
In addition, the agreement stated that the local authority was to carry out its repairing obligations within a reasonable time from the time when it first knew or ought to have known of the need for repairs. A “reasonable time” was such time as was reasonable in all the circumstances, and not exceeding the times specified in the agreement. The agreement between Mr R’s mother and the local authority, as is common with local authority tenancies, set out a priority list of repairs to be carried out within a specified number of days from notification.
The window in Mr R’s bedroom was defective and required repair. Despite notification of the defect to the local authority on several occasions before and after his accident, Mr R’s window remained in a state of disrepair for many months. This particular local authority totally disregarded the agreement and was clearly in breach of its repairing obligations as the landlord.
In May 2009 Mr R was attempting to open the window when it began to fall towards him. Mr R thought it was going to fall on him and lost his balance. He fell, sustaining an injury to his right arm. There were two hinges holding up the window and although he had known that one of the hinges was defective, Mr R had not expected the window to come away from the frame in that manner.
Mr R required urgent medical treatment from his local hospital. He had fractured his right wrist and was off work for three months. Fortunately, he made a good recovery.
Mr R instructed me to bring a claim for his injury and financial losses. What should have been a fairly straightforward claim became a long drawn out process. The local authority failed to admit liability. I had to issue an application for “pre-action disclosure” at court to force them to provide documents relating to the window. Just before the hearing, the local authority’s insurers agreed to either admit liability or provide me with the relevant documents within a specified period of time and pay the costs of the application. That failed to materialise and I was again compelled to threaten them with further action. It became apparent that the local authority could not provide any documents and eventually the insurers agreed to meet the claim.
I obtained a medical report from an orthopaedic surgeon and we made an offer to settle the claim. But the insurers then refused to meet the claim on the basis that Mr R failed to prove the fall had been caused by the defective window. This had been prompted by an entry in Mr R’s hospital records which failed to mention the word “window” as being the cause of the fall. It is common for medical records not to contain a detailed account of the accident, since priority is understandably given to treatment of patients. Also, Mr R’s accident happened in the early hours of the morning. He did not known what was being recorded by the A&E doctor. The last thing he was thinking about was making sure the hospital entry recorded the accident circumstances fully for a claim which he had not yet even thought about!
I provided detailed statements from Mr R and his wife who had been in the room at the time of the accident, but this failed to persuade the insurers to settle the claim. Consequently there was little option but to commence legal proceedings. We eventually settled the claim for a five figure sum with Mr R accepting a small reduction to reflect the fact that he had known the window was defective and should have taken some care when opening it.
All landlords have certain legal obligations to keep their property properly maintained and in good state of repair. In addition, they have a duty to ensure the premises are safe for lawful visitors, including their tenants.