Following a liability trial at Manchester County Court, BLM, instructed by Zurich Insurance on behalf of the defendant school, and represented by Brain McCluggage of 9 St John Street Chambers, secured the dismissal of a claim for personal injuries sustained when the claimant tripped over a yellow wheel stop in the school car park.  Her Honour Judge Evans found this was “an accident in the true sense of the word”, with the wheel stops being “absolutely plain for anyone to see”.

Facts of the case

On 14 October 2016, the Claimant, a teacher, was walking across the rear car park of the school towards the school building whilst pulling a trolley of books.  As she walked through an empty disabled parking bay, she tripped over a yellow rubber wheel stop at the head of the disabled bay and sustained injury.

The school car park was designed to have level access around the disabled parking bays and as such there were dropped kerbs to the head of the disabled bays.  Yellow parking stops were in place to prevent cars from encroaching onto the pedestrian areas.  The rear car park was in regular use by school staff and pupils, and also members of the public accessing the school's sports premises.

The claimant submitted the wheel stops were not sufficiently visible and she had not been aware of them as they “blended into together” with the yellow paint used for marking the disabled parking bays. 

The Defendant argued the wheel stops were clearly visible and there to be seen, being painted bright yellow for increased visibility.  They served an important safety function in preventing cars from encroaching onto pedestrian areas. 

Court decision

It went without saying the wheel stops were obviously something over which someone could trip, but the Trial Judge found they performed an important safety function by preventing vehicles from going beyond the parking bays and coming into contact with pedestrians on the pavement.  No evidence was adduced as to what would have been a safe or suitable alternative and it seemed entirely reasonable for the defendant to take the view it was reasonable to have them there.  The mischief they were guarding against was far more severe than the risk as a tripping hazard.

The Trial Judge found that this was an accident in the true sense of the word.  The claimant was walking through a parking bay and simply did not see what she knew was there.  She did not consider there was anything the defendant should have done, or that it was negligent in terms of not guarding against the risk to the claimant of the wheel stops.

What this means for you

Whether it be wheel stops or anything else for that matter, common sense dictates that pedestrians ought to look where they are going. The undoubted risk of pedestrians tripping over them had to be balanced against the important function they provided. Claimants cannot simply say “it is unsafe and something should be done” without showing how the risk can be practically and reasonably reduced so that the result would have been different.

It is another common sense decision in a long line of authorities which do not require employers or occupiers to warn as to obvious risks, such as they are.

Commenting on the outcome, BLM Partner Alison Noonan said: “This judgment is a victory for common sense.  The wheel stops here were clearly distinguishable from surrounding surfacing and it is reasonable to expect pedestrians to take reasonable care for their own safety.  They should not rely upon occupiers or employers to provide warnings of obvious risks.”

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