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Parks trust and local authority defeat High Court personal injury claim over shop forecourt fall

A parks trust and a council have successfully defended a High Court personal injury claim brought by a claimant who fell when walking across a shop forecourt to her car.

The case of Murphy v Milton Keynes Parks Trust Ltd & Anor [2021] EWHC 2917 (QB) concerned an accident on 30 March 2017, when the claimant, then aged 64 years old, stumbled and fell after having bought a newspaper.

Milton Keynes Parks Trust is the owner/occupier of the shop forecourt, while Milton Keynes Council is the highway authority for Springfield Boulevard, which runs adjacent to the shop forecourt, referred to as the pavement.

The claim was issued on 23 March 2020.

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Her Honour Judge Crane said: “There is no dispute that the claimant fell and injured herself. It was a nasty fall for which anyone would feel great sympathy for her.”

Both defendants denied liability. The trial was heard on 18-19 October 2021 and was solely concerned with liability.

The claimant's case, until the day of trial, was that she had tripped/stumbled when placing her foot in a depression in the surface of the forecourt/pavement, which caused her to stumble and fall.

At the trial, the claimant gave evidence and her account of the fall had changed. She said that she had tripped, catching her left foot, on uneven or broken paving just near the letter 'G' of the painted word 'parking'.

This had caused her to stumble, and as she put her other foot down, that was in the depression, so she continued to stumble and then fell. She ended up lying on the ground.

The claimant conceded that it had been a long time since the accident and it was very hard to know exactly what had happened. “She could not explain why this version had not been set out in her witness statement” the judge said.

No one else had witnessed the fall.

HHJ Crane said she found the claimant to be an honest witness seeking to give an accurate account of the fall. “However, as she conceded, the accident was a long time ago and was difficult for her to know exactly what happened given the shock of such an unexpected and quick event. It had never been her case prior to the day of trial that the area by 'G' was significant….I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that she did not trip/stumble around 'G' but stumbled when stepping into the area of the depression, around the white line, which caused her to fall.”

Dismissing the claim, HHJ Crane said the depression was not particularly significant, being only a maximum of 27mm in depth and a minimum of 500mm in diameter. “This is significantly less than the Milton Keynes Code of Practice guidance for actionable defects. The gradient is less than would be found across drop kerbs across the borough.”

She added that the depression had existed since at least 2012. “Despite this being a busy thoroughfare for the local community, with all kinds of pedestrians, including children and the elderly, there have been no other recorded accidents or falls at the location.”

The judge said neither the parks trust nor the council were expected to maintain the forecourt or the pavement in a perfect condition, without any slightly raised edges or depressions. “Such a high standard for either defendant would not be realistic or practicable,” she added.

HHJ Crane concluded: “The purpose for which the claimant was invited onto the forecourt was for commercial purposes to go to the One Stop Shop. In all the circumstances of this case the condition of the forecourt was reasonable to see that the claimant was reasonably safe when walking across the forecourt to the One Stop Shop and back to her car.

“The pavement, that being the highway, was not dangerous. It was reasonably passable for the ordinary traffic, that being pedestrians moving to/from the forecourt to the pavement and along the pavement, without danger being caused by the condition of the pavement.”

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