Karla Hodgson v Castlehill Housing Association Ltd
Occupiers’ Liability in Scotland is governed by the Occupiers Liability (Scotland) Act 1960. In summary, this sets out that the occupier of any premises owes a duty of care to people entering the premises so that individuals will not suffer injury or damage due to danger from the premises. The extent of this duty is assessed on a case to case basis.
In the case of Karla Hodgson v Castlehill Housing Association Ltd  SC EDIN 5 the pursuer had descended down a dimly lit flight of stairs while holding on to the handrail, the handrail ended and she lost her footing and fell down the remaining step onto the landing at the bottom of the stairs. There had been no lighting on the bottom half of the stairs and the handrail ended at the second bottom step. The pursuers’ position was that the defenders as the occupiers of the premises owed a duty of care to the pursuer in terms of the 1960 Act. The issues for consideration by the court were therefore whether the premises were dangerous due to their state or to any activity carried on there and, if so, did the defenders take reasonable care in all the circumstances for persons entering thereon.
Evidence was only lead by the pursuer which included statements from 6 witnesses. On the night of the accident the pursuer contended that she descended the stairs, she held on to the handrail on the right hand side of the stairs with her right hand. She descended the stairs slowly, taking one step at a time and put both of her feet onto the same step before stepping onto the next step. She contends the lighting conditions on the stairs were fairly dark and that there was not enough light for her to see the steps ahead of her. Due to the lack of lighting, she had been unable to see that there was a further step to negotiate. She had been unable to get up following the fall and was assisted by a passer-by, who appeared as a witness.
This witness also described the lighting conditions on the stairs as dark, further stating the bottom step was in darkness and that the only source of light was the moon. Evidence was also taken from a Property Services Officer employed by the Defender. He was at the locus around two to three times per month. When on site, he would carry out a general walk-around to look out for any obvious problems including checking paths for trip hazards and communal outside lights. He contended that the street lamp had provided sufficient illumination for users of the stairs and that he had used the stairs doing hours of darkness and had considered the stairs were dark but not a hazard. Evidence was further taken from an expert for the pursuer. A consultant engineer conducted an investigation and considered that the lighting provided for the stairs was inadequate.
The pursuer’s primary position was that standing the absence of adequate lighting, it was the defenders’ duty to take reasonable care to see to it that persons entering on the premises did not suffer injury or damage by reason of that danger. The pursuers also sought to rely on the statement that the danger was so obvious that the defenders ought to have been aware of it and addressed it.
Sheriff Douglas Keir held that without knowledge on the part of the defenders, the danger posed by such unlit steps should not have been obvious to the defenders. However, he held that the Property Services Officer knew or ought to have known that there was no dedicated lighting for the stairs. Parties referred to Delaney, a case also involving falls on stairs in dark conditions. In Delaney, the pursuer was descending an internal staircase at her place of work. She had taken her hand off the handrail but misjudged her footing due to poor lighting at the bottom of the stairs. The Lord Ordinary found that the accident was caused by the defenders’ fault at common law through their failure to take reasonable care to provide adequate lighting and stated at paragraph :
“…with the lighting as it was, there was a real risk of a person being injured in the way the pursuer was – a real risk which, it seems, could readily have been eliminated by the provision of brighter lighting, in particular at the foot of the stairs.”
In the present case, the lack of lighting was an on-going state of affairs known by the defenders through the employee. Against that background Sheriff Douglas Keir agreed with the approach adopted by the Lord Ordinary in the Delaney case. He further stated that such an absence of reported accidents does not mean that no one has fallen on the stairs due to the inadequate lighting conditions.
The absence of accidents/complaints is not determinative in itself and requires to be considered along with the other relevant factors in the case. Further, that the lights were inadequate which constituted a danger of which the defenders had actual knowledge. He considered that the obvious precaution for the defenders to take was the installation of a dedicated light, as they had done at some point following the accident. He concluded that the defenders had not taken care as in all the circumstances was reasonable to see that the pursuer did not suffer injury or damage as a result of the danger caused by the inadequate lighting and, as such, have breached section 2 of the 1960 Act. As such, the pursuers were successful and awarded £17,000.