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Personal injury case study

Mrs Williams made a visit to see her elderly mother at Great Crest Care Home. Great Crest is a private care home, providing long-term residential care. The home employs various nurses and administrative staff and contracts a cleaning company, Spotless Floors, to maintain the rooms and communal areas daily. Mrs Williams arrived and was shown upstairs to her mother’s room by a member of staff. After about an hour, Mrs Williams said her goodbyes and made her way along the varnished landing to the top of the stairs where she slipped on a pool of water. Stretching out an arm, she grasped the banister in an effort to steady herself, but it gave way and she tumbled down a short flight, injuring her back and hip.

Mrs Williams has a potential claim against two separate parties: Great Crest Care Home and Spotless Floors. Her best claim against Great Crest is under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 (the Act). The Act imposes a duty on occupiers to take reasonable care to see that visitors will be as safe as possible when using the premises for permitted purposes (section 2[2]). The court may take the view that Great Crest breached that duty by failing to ensure the pool of water was cleaned up, failing to erect a sign warning Mrs Williams about the water or failing to ensure the banisters were in an adequate state of repair. Alternatively, if staff were aware of the pool of water but failed to act, the court may find that Great Crest has breached a duty to Mrs Williams at common law (Goldman v Hargrave [1966]). Therefore, it is likely that Mrs Williams will succeed in her claim against Great Crest and will receive compensation from the court in view of her injuries.

Mrs Williams may also be able to make a claim against Spotless Floors under the Act, but only if Spotless Floors is also deemed to be an occupier, despite being an independent contractor (Wheat v E Lacon & Co Ltd [1966]). If so, the court will probably find that Spotless Floors has breached its statutory duty for some of the same reasons as Great Crest Care Home. If not, the court will most likely agree that Spotless Floors still owes Mrs Williams a duty of care under common law, and she will be able to make a claim in negligence. Therefore, it is possible that Mrs Williams will also succeed in her claim against Spotless Floors.

Mrs Williams only needs to succeed against one party in order to be granted the full award and, even if she succeeds against both parties, the court will not increase her award. Rather, the parties will be jointly and severally liable, with the sum being split between the parties in accordance with their fault (Bonnington Castings Ltd v Wardlaw [1956]).

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