After slipping on ice on a ungritted footway of a car park, was the defendant liable to the injured claimant?
Willis v Halton Borough Council  Liverpool County Court, HHJ Gregory – 6 December 2022
The defendant local authority was not liable to a claimant who slipped on ice after exiting his car in a public car park.
The claimant alleged that he slipped on ice on the footway of a car park adjacent to a school. He alleged that in failing to grit the car park and the footway the local authority was in breach of its duty under the Occupiers' Liability Act 1957 (“the Act”). Liability was denied. The defendant relied on its Winter Service Plan. Only priority carriageways were routinely gritted. Footways were not routinely gritted and neither were small, unmanned car parks such as the accident location.
The claim was dismissed. The case was analogous with Cook v Swansea City Council  EWCA Civ 2142 in which the Court of Appeal held that it would not be reasonable to impose a duty of care that would require the defendant to grit its unmanned car parks whenever icy conditions were reported. The defendant's Winter Service Plan was reasonable and proportionate, and the defendant had discharged its duty of reasonable care under section 2 of the Act.
As we approach the busy festive period during a week of freezing weather, this is a welcome and sensible judgment for local authorities that applies key principles. It is a reminder that the duty under the Act is not absolute or strict, and that a defendant is not under a duty to guarantee the safety of a visitor. Further, as confirmed by the Court of Appeal in Cook, “the risk of ice in cold weather in an obvious danger. People out and about in cold weather can be reasonably expected to watch out for ice and to take care”.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.