Caution – wet floor

July 13th, 2011

In Maddison Hufton v Somerset County Council [2011] EWCA Civ 789, the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by a schoolgirl who slipped and fell in a school hall on a patch of water “about the area of an A4 sheet of paper”. In slipping, she had injured her knee, and brought a claim for damages for personal injury against the Defendant Council. The judge in the County Court dismissed her claim, holding that the procedures which the school had in place to ensure the safety of staff and pupils were entirely reasonable.

When it started to rain the school would put up signs warning that there should be no entry to the hall, and place prefects by the doors in order to police entry. Mats would also be put down to soak up any water which was brought into the hall. What had happened in the present case was that the Claimant (and certain others before her) had gained access to the hall in the brief period between it starting to rain and the warning signs being put up. She had then slipped on the patch of water which had gathered in that time. She argued before the Court of Appeal that the school should have had a better system of preventing the floor from getting wet, and, if it did get wet, a better system for mopping up.

The Court of Appeal rejected these arguments. As Jackson LJ remarked, injecting a dose of common sense to the proceedings,  “It is not possible, and the law does not require, the occupier of premises to take measures which would absolutely prevent any accident from ever occurringI do not regard it as realistic to say that the school should have had a system in place whereby that small area of water should have been spotted and mopped up during the brief period of time between its arrival and the moment when the claimant slipped.

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