A man who tripped in a parking bay argued that the retailer owed him a duty of care.
In May 2015, Kanwarjit Singh Juj, 83, tripped on a kerb next to a disabled bay in which his wife (who was disabled) had parked their car. He sustained a fractured wrist, maxillofacial injuries and a traumatic brain injury.
The car park was adjacent to a Waitrose supermarket in Ruislip, Middlesex, UK. Although the car park was owned by the local authority and not the store, the appellant claimed that John Lewis Partnership plc, which owns Waitrose, had breached its duty of care under the Occupier’s Liability Act 1957. This claim was dismissed but the decision was appealed.
John Lewis denied liability for the fall, saying that it was an occupier of the car park. The company also claimed the kerb on which he tripped did not pose a danger, and the fall was a ‘true accident’.
The judge ruled at the initial trial that the car park’s design, including the location of the kerb, was an unreasonable danger for the users of that bay – the disabled – which did in fact breach the Occupier’s Liability Act 1957. However, they ruled that as an occupier, John Lewis’s control was limited to dealing with immediate hazards and reporting these matters to the local authority that owned the car park. The respondent was not required to make any structural changes, cordon off bays for use, or paint the kerb to make it more visible. The trial judge ruled that nothing the respondent had done, or failed to do, had caused the accident.
The appellant brought an appeal against the judgment and argued that the original judge’s limiting of the respondent’s duties as an occupier was incorrect.
On appeal, the judge considered three areas in determining the case: Was the respondent an occupier? Did the respondent have a duty of care? What caused the accident?
For the first point, the appeal judge said that the original judge was wrong to exclude the respondent’s ability to put up warning signs if necessary for any issues (such as the kerb), which had not been remedied by the local authority. They ruled that John Lewis was a joint occupier of the car park in this respect.
The parking bay kerb did not present a degree of risk high enough to trigger a specific duty of care
The appeal judge then considered the respondent’s duty of care to the appellant. The presence of the kerb and the size of the bay were obvious to any user of it – the appellant and his wife had parked there on previous occasions without problems. The kerb in question was not in a state of disrepair or an abnormal height – so the presence of the kerb and its proximity to the bay was not unusual and it did not constitute a trap. Therefore, the appeal judge ruled that the respondent came under no duty to warn visitors of any kind of the presence of the kerb: it was obvious without warning. The kerb’s presence, state and location did not present a degree of risk high enough to trigger a specific duty of care.
Finally, the appeal judge considered the cause of the appellant’s accident. They ruled that the appellant was aware of the kerb when he tripped on it and the breach of any potential duty by the respondent had not caused the accident. Consequently, they agreed with the original trial judge that the appellant’s fall was indeed a ‘true accident’ without a breach of duty by the respondent.
The appeal was therefore dismissed.
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