The recent decision in the case of Alan Cairns against Dundee City Council indicates that the Courts may be reluctant to interfere with the discretion given to local authorities to implement their policies.
On Saturday 1 December 2012 Alan Cairns, a consultant engineer, was walking through Queen Street car park in Broughty Ferry Dundee. As he was walking through the car park he slipped and fell, sustaining “life changing” injuries that resulted in him being off work for a lengthy period of time. He is still living with the long term effects of his injuries.
Mr Cairns realised when he was lying on the ground of the car park that he had fallen on black ice. The car park had not been gritted. He raised a case against Dundee City Council. The basis of his case was that the Council should have made sure that any ice in the car park should have been cleared by the time of his accident.
Mr Cairns’ accident occurred on a Saturday morning. Dundee City Council confirmed that no gritting would have taken place on Saturday mornings as no car park maintenance personnel were employed by the council on a Saturday. Mr Cairns argued that the council had breached their duty by not having a system in place to grit the car park on a Saturday. He argued that the car park should have been inspected and gritted before the local shops opened at 9am or 10am. It was also noted that the council had now installed a sign confirming that the car park was not gritted on a Saturday. Mr Cairns advised that had he seen this sign and been aware of the fact the car park was not gritted then his accident would not have occurred.
The Court found that if the council had implemented a system within the car park on Saturday then it would have been “more stringent” than the system in place during the week. It would also have meant that the council would have had to provide cover for all car parks every Saturday. The Court advised that it was reluctant to interfere with the discretion given to local authorities in relation to the scope and scale of their roads and footpath winter clearance policies. The Court found that it was a matter for the local authority to determine where and when to deploy its employees. The Court found that if a system had been in place, there was no guarantee that the car park would have been gritted before the accident. The Court also held that the duty of care upon the local authority did not extend to erecting a warning sign. As a result, Mr Cairns’ case failed. There was no breach of duty by Dundee City Council.
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