Smith v Body Corporate for Professional Suites Community Title Scheme 14487 [2013] QCA 80

The Queensland Court of Appeal has rejected a claim of negligence against a body corporate for injuries sustained by a woman who fell through glass in the foyer of a building.

The glass panel complied with the relevant Australian standards in place at the time of the original construction of the building in 1971. Later standards only permitted the installation of safety glass, and provided that if existing glass was replaced for any reason then the replacement glass should comply with the current standard.

During renovations in 2000 and 2001, some glass in the building was replaced with safety glass. The glass panel through which Ms Smith fell was not replaced during the renovations. The architect’s plans for the renovations did not alert the body corporate to the relevant Australian standards applicable to installing glass.

Ms Smith claimed that her injuries were caused by the negligence of the body corporate. The central issues about liability were whether the body corporate breached its duty of care by failing to arrange an audit of the glass doors and walls to ascertain whether they complied with the prevailing Australian standards, and what the audit recommendations would have been.

Ms Smith failed to prove that the body corporate acted unreasonably by failing to organise an audit of the glass and then replace the existing glass with safety glass. The Court took into account:

  • the extraordinarily large number of people who uneventfully entered and exited the building over 30 years;
  • the absence of any evidence that the body corporate knew or should have known that the glass had a propensity to break into dangerous shards when sufficient force was applied to it; and
  • the potentially enormous cost of investigating and removing equally unlikely risks associated with other glass or materials throughout the common areas of the building.

The appeal court ordered Ms Smith to pay the body corporate’s costs of the appeal, in addition to the trial judge’s order for Ms Smith to pay the body corporate’s costs of the trial.

The case illustrates that failure to bring a building up to date with Australian standards over time can be unpersuasive or completely irrelevant in a plaintiff’s personal injuries case.