Slips, trips and falls are common accidents around the house. As we will uncover in this case (Chandler v Silwood  QSC 90), a slip on a private property can result in a considerable payout.
Kayleen* Chandler was a young mother of two beautiful daughters. Her second child had been born just two weeks prior.
Sadly, Kayleen and her partner had split just before the birth of their daughter.
As a new mum looking for a much needed break and desperate to catch up on some sleep, Kayleen called Clive and asked that he look after their daughters for the night. They agreed that Kayleen would drop the girls off that night at 8:30 pm.
Kayleen fed and bathed the girls and sat down to have her own meal. She also drunk about 3 glasses of red wine mixed with lemonade.
She arrived at Clive’s house at about 8:30 pm. With the baby and her older daughter in the car, she pulled up on Clive’s driveway, got out of the car and walked up the short flight of stairs to the front door.
It was dark by then and Clive forgot to turn the outside lights on for Kayleen.
Unbeknownst to Kayleen, Clive had also hosed the front stairs and walkway earlier that day after noticing some bat droppings in the area.
She tried to catch her fall by putting out her hands but by doing so, her arm went straight through the glass front door.
She sliced her right arm, severing an artery.
There was blood everywhere and Kayleen was in considerable pain.
Clive rushed out to Kayleen’s assistance and called an ambulance for her. He collected the girls from the car and took them into the house.
Kayleen was going into shock when the ambulance arrived. She was taken to Redcliffe Hospital where she went in for emergency surgery to stop the bleeding.
The surgery was successful but expensive.
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now had to find a way to afford her enormous medical bills on top of the stress of looking after a newborn and young daughter.
Kayleen was the primary carer for both her daughters. This new injury made it difficult to look after her girls and she was already struggling to make ends meet.
Globally slips, trips and falls are the second leading cause of unintentional injury and death. Such accidents are also most likely to happen around the home.
Kayleen brought a claim against Clive’s or more appropriately his insurance company to help her pay for her medical bills.
The Civil Liability Act was introduced to protect people like Kayleen for others’ negligent actions.
However, for claims to be successful under this act you need to be able to prove that owner/occupier of the home was at fault.
To do so, a lot of evidence needs to be obtained by both parties in order to establish fault.
To prove that Clive owed her a duty of care Kayleen gathered expert evidence from engineers and copious photographs.
Mr Roger Kahler, an engineer provided a report and evidence as to the slip resistance of the stairs.
He said the tread on the first stair sloped from rear to front. The nosing was slightly raised above the tread’s surface which caused pooling when water was poured onto the stairs. He also observed algae growth at the stair’s edge, indicating that water did not drain freely from the stair. He conducted a lot of testing to establish the evaporation rate of water based on the temperature on the day of the accident.
Mr Kahler believed that the tread of the stair would have been wet at the time Kayleen arrived at the house and that the risk of slipping during his testing as between moderate and high.
While there is no Australian Standards for external stair slip resistance, the testing is in breach of Australian Standards for walkways and internal stairs.
Common sense would tell us that Clive was breaking his duty of care in this case.
Clive said he had not turned the outside light on and that the only light on in the house when Kayleen arrived was in the kitchen.
The kitchen light did not cast any light into the entrance of the house.
There is no evidence as to how effective the street lighting was.
The Judge accepted Kayleen’s photographic evidence that the entrance area at the front of the house was dark when she arrived.
Prior to dropping the girls off, Kayleen had 3 half glasses of wine mixed with lemonade. Again, Kayleen gathered expert evidence to rebut Clive's argument.
Dr Buchanan, a forensic medical officer gave evidence on Kayleen’s behalf that Kayleen’s blood alcohol concentration based on what she had to drink would have been between 0 and .03 percent. This would have had minimal effect on her judgment and perception.
He further advised that if Kayleen had drunk 3 glasses each containing wine and not mixed with lemonade that her blood alcohol concentration would have been .057 which would result in some degree of disinhibition with mild impairment of perception and judgment.
Dr Robert Hoskins, a physician giving evidence on Clive’s behalf did not disagree with any of Dr Buchanan’s calculations. However, he considered if Kayleen’s blood alcohol concentration was .057, this would affect her capacity to exercise proper care and skill.
There was no dispute that Clive as the owner/occupier of the property owed a duty to Kayleen as a lawful entrant to take reasonable care to prevent injury to her, while assuming she would take reasonable care for her own safety also.
Clive argued that the incident was the result of Kayleen’s inebriation and carelessness, or that those matters amounted to contributory negligence which should result in a reduction of Kayleen’s damages
Kayleen was awarded $650,000.
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This case shows that slip, trip and fall cases can be very difficult to prove fault on the owner/occupier of the premises whether it be a private property, shopping centre or public property.
A lot of evidence needs to be obtained by both parties in order to establish fault. As you can see in this case, expert evidence was obtained from forensic medical officers and engineers concerning intoxication levels and the resistance of the stairs taking into account environmental factors.
Compensation can be awarded if you can prove that the owner of a property has breached their duty of care and failed to put measures in place to prevent the risk of injury.
Again, environmental factors that contribute to slips, trips and falls can include slippery surfaces following rain or spills, poorly designed or maintained walkways and stairs, poor lighting on stairs and walkways and trip hazards.
If it all possible after an accident, it is helpful to take photographs of the site of the accident and the conditions (i.e. liquid, food, lighting etc.) that contributed to or caused the fall.
* The names and narrative have been altered but the facts of the case in regards to payments, liability and the Judge's findings on the evidence are reported as written in the judgement.