Five pints too many?

The Plaintiff fell while returning home after 5.00 pm on the 18th November 2013 having visited a number of licensed premises wherein he consumed 5 pints of Guinness.  The Plaintiff was awarded €105,650 in Sligo High Court in 2017 against Sligo County Council.  The Plaintiff suffered a significant injury involving a fracture to his left distal tibia and fibular.  The Plaintiff had fallen on wet and slippery tiles in his porch of his rental Council home.  Following an appeal, the Court of Appeal ordered the issue of liability to be retried, however did not retry the issue of quantum. The Plaintiff who previously worked as a paver claimed the slippiness of the porch’s tiling and the angle of the porch to face the prevailing winds and rain caused a hazard.  The Plaintiff’s legal team alleged that the porch was constantly exposed to being wet which exacerbated the issue caused by the slippy mosaic tiles.

The Plaintiff argued he was a visitor of the council-owned house which he rented and occupied, and that the Council owed him a duty of care. Under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1995, the Occupiers undertake a duty to take such care as is reasonable to ensure that a visitor to the premises does not suffer injury or damage by reason of any danger due to the state of the premises.   A visitor includes:-

  • An entrant who is present on the premises of the Occupier at the invitation or with the permission of the Occupier or a member of his family.
  • A member of the Occupiers’ family.
  • An entrant who is present on the premises of the Occupier for the purpose of an expressed or implied term in a contract.

Regard may be had to the following: –

  • The care which a visitor ought to have to his own safety.
  • The extent of supervision and control that an accompanying visitor can be expected to exercise over such visitor.
  • All the circumstances of the case.

It was found that the Plaintiff was not a visitor of the Council owned house which he rented and occupied. Mr Justice John Jordan found it was “artificial” for the Plaintiff to suggest he was a visitor to the house that he rented and occupied. It was also noted that the Plaintiff was a resident of the property since 2004 and had control over the condition and cleanliness of the porch surface.  The Court found that on review of the letting agreement and the level of control the Council had over the premises it was correct to say that the Council was an Occupier however the Plaintiff too was clearly an Occupier.   However, the fact that both the Plaintiff and the Council were together Occupiers did not give the Plaintiff a cause of action against the Council under the Occupiers Liability Act.

The Plaintiff failed to prove the Council was “in any way responsible” for the accident.  The Council provided expert evidence from a Michael Morris a Professor of Surface and Interface Engineering at Trinity College Dublin and the Court was satisfied that the unglazed tile did not pose a danger on the premises.

It was noted that the Council did not argue the consumption of alcohol was an act of contributory negligence, however they argued it was a factor in regard to the Plaintiff’s duty to take reasonable care for his own safety and in his conflicting accounts of how the accident occurred.

This case is an example of the Court of Appeal endorsing a more reasonable duty on Occupiers.  However, one must ask would it have been a different result if the case involved a private landlord and if there was an issue raised, with the regard to the slippiness of the tiles, in writing in advance of the fall.

Niamh O’Connor

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