Occupiers' Liability Examined: Court of Appeal Decision on Waitrose Car Park Incident
Legal Development 30 January 2024 30 January 2024
UK & Europe
In a recent judgment regarding Kanwarjit Singh Juj v John Lewis Partnership Plc, The Court of Appeal has confirmed that although the defendant was a joint occupier of the car park, with the local authority, they were not liable from what was considered to be a "true accident".
Mr Juj (‘the claimant’), an 83-year-old man, sought damages for a serious personal injury arising from a trip and fall which occurred on 17 March 2015 in a Waitrose car park in Ruislip. The car park belonged to the local authority, London Borough of Hillingdon (‘the local authority’).
The claimant had been visiting the Waitrose store and had parked his vehicle in the adjoining car park. The claimant brought a claim solely against John Lewis Partnership Plc (‘the defendant’) under the provisions of the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 (‘the OLA’).
The claimant attended the car park with his disabled wife. The claimant’s wife drove their vehicle and she parked the car in a marked disabled parking bay. The accident occurred when the claimant was returning to the vehicle. The claimant stated that, whilst he was putting his shopping away in the boot of the vehicle, he tripped on a kerb, which adjoined the disabled parking bay, and fell. In falling, he hit his head, suffering physical injuries including a traumatic brain injury with long term consequences.
It was the local authority who collected the car park revenue, maintained the car park, and erected the relevant signage. For reasons unknown to the defendant, the claimant did not issue proceedings against the local authority and the case proceeded to a trial solely against the defendant.
The defendant had no licence relating to, or other legal interest in, the car park. The car park was shared with other local users of the high street and was not exclusively for the defendant's use. The defendant refunded its customers for up to two hours car parking. Its branding was displayed in and around the perimeter of the car park and, from time to time, they would notify the local authority of any problems with the car park including requests for routine maintenance.
It was the claimant's case that the defendant was an occupier of the car park under the OLA and the defendant had breached its duty of care in numerous respects.
At first instance, the trial judge found that:
- The accident was caused by the claimant catching his foot on the face of the kerb.
- Although the defendant had sufficient control to be an occupier of the car park, that control was limited to dealing with immediate hazards within it and reporting matters to the local authority. It was not entitled to, nor required to, paint the kerb or prevent the use of any particular bay, including the one in question. Neither was it entitled to nor required to make any long term or structural changes to the car park.
- The unique design of the parking bay, including the presence of the kerb immediately to the left of it, did present a danger for the class of visitors using that bay, namely the disabled, in breach of Section 2(2) of the OLA.
- The kerb itself was not defective.
- However, the claimant was fully aware of the presence of the kerb, and his injury arose from what was, simply, a true accident. There was nothing that the defendant had done, or failed to have done, which caused the injury.
Court of Appeal judgment 21 December 2023
The Court of Appeal found that the judge at first instance was correct in all respects and in particular, that the defendant was an occupier to the extent of their limited degree of control over the premises, to put them under a duty of care towards visitors to the premises, and that duty extended only to reporting issues to the local authority.
The defendant had no responsibility for the design, construction and layout of the parking bay. Further, the kerb itself was not defective which countered any allegations relating to the repair or maintenance of the premises.
The Court of Appeal found that the kerb was clearly there to be seen and there is no general requirement to warn of obvious dangers. Therefore, there was no requirement on the defendant to place a warning of the kerbs in the bay.
The critical issue for the claimant was the finding of the trial judge that this was not a case of someone tripping over a difference in height where they would not expect one to be. This was not a trap and it was not unseen. The claimant's clear evidence was that he knew of the presence of the kerb, he saw it and was trying to step onto it. Sadly, on this occasion, he simply misjudged that manoeuvre by not lifting his foot sufficiently.
To read the full judgment please click here.
This case provides an interesting example of the interplay between (i) the degree of an occupiers’ control and (ii) the extent of a defendant's duties as an occupier. In this case, the defendant was found to be a joint occupier, owing to a number of factors including their proximity to the car park and the fact that their customers used the car park with a high degree of frequency. However, their duties did not extend to the range of positive actions suggested by the claimant.
The case also raises important issues in the context of the standards to be expected of occupiers where visitors are disabled and/or otherwise vulnerable.
The case also reaffirms the position that there is no duty to warn of obvious dangers.