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Maddison Hufton v. Somerset County Council


Court of Appeal

A school which operated a policy of preventing pupils from entering the premises directly into the school hall on rainy days by erecting wet weather signs as soon as it started raining was not expected to have a system in place for observing and removing water deposited in the hall during the brief period of time between it starting to rain and the production of the wet weather signs. Accordingly, it was not liable to a pupil who slipped and fell in the hall during that period.
The appellant pupil (H) appealed against the dismissal of her claim for damages for personal injury against the respondent local authority.
H, aged 15-and-a-half, had suffered a knee injury when she slipped and fell on a wet floor in the hall of her school. Her case was that on a rainy day the school staff had negligently permitted pupils to walk through some fire doors directly into the hall, thereby depositing water onto the floor. The judge had preferred the local authority's defence, which was that pupils were not permitted to directly enter the school hall on wet days and that a sign was placed by the fire doors on those days, which operated as an instruction to prefects to prevent pupils from entering. He found that the school's procedures were reasonable and appropriate and dismissed the incident as an unfortunate accident.
H argued that there had been no proper system in place for (1) preventing the floor of the hall from becoming wet; (2) clearing up water if the floor did become wet.
HELD: (1) The school's risk assessment was reasonable and identified appropriate control measures. Its recommendations had been properly implemented. If it started to rain during a break, there would be a delay before a wet-weather sign was placed by the fire doors, and a small amount of water could be deposited on the hall floor during that gap. On the day in question that was what probably happened. The law did not require an occupier of premises to take measures which would absolutely prevent any accident from ever occurring; all that was required was the exercise of reasonable care. The judge had made primary findings of fact and had evaluated those facts. He had not erred in his evaluation, so there was no reason to interfere with it (see paras 22-31 of judgment). (2) The evidence did not show that liquid gathering on the floor was a frequent problem or that there needed to be a special system for mopping it up. It was not realistic to expect the school to have a system in place for spotting and removing a small area of water during a brief period of time between the start of rain and the production of the wet-weather signs (paras 33-38).

Appeal dismissed.

[2011] ELR 482

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