Perhaps the traditional “welcome mat” at your front door should be replaced with a mat stating “guests enter at their own risk”.
Why you may ask?
In 2015 the High Court ruled in favour of the claimant Mr Mark Pollock, who fell 25ft out of an open window at his friends’ house leaving him paralysed. £2million in damages was awarded.
On the 10 May 2016 the defendants Edna and Madeleine Cahill unsuccessfully sought via the Court of Appeal permission to appeal the earlier 2015 decision. Lord Justice Moore-Blick, the Court of Appeal Judge, who considered the application for permission to appeal, appears to have taken the view that the Judge in 2015 had been justified in reaching his decision in favour of Mr Pollock.
The defendants were insured up to a maximum of £2million and the claimant had agreed to limit his claim to that amount, although his injuries were so severe that the case was probably worth more.
This case may create a chill amongst house owners who regularly invite guests to their property. Should hospitable people feel at risk and should we all get guests to sign waivers against liability?
I do not think so.
A little detail on the above case will perhaps help explain the decision of the judge and the recent decision of the Court of Appeal. Mr Pollock was blind and had been given a second floor bedroom with a double casement window, where the window sill was at a height which would have reached his mid thigh. One of the owners had left the window open. I appreciate hindsight is a wonderful thing, but was this not an accident waiting to happen?
The blind guest was unaware of the open window and the risk it posed for him. The owners should have considered that risk for their blind guest.
The Judge in 2015 concluded that the claimant fell through the open window as he was trying to make his way to the bathroom having just woken up. The Judge found that the defendants had been in breach of their duty of care as occupiers pursuant to section 2 of the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 which includes a duty to have regard to any known vulnerabilities of a guest – in this case Mr Pollock’s blindness. The sill which was lower than many window sills was in the Judge’s view an “obvious risk for a blind person”.
This is the season of garden parties and the like. Hospitality is a good thing, but looking after your guests does not just mean ensuring that their glasses are refilled. It also means taking care that your guests do not face risks which could be easily avoided.
So keep the welcome mat, but be risk aware and keep your guests from harm.