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In a personal injury claim that will be of interest to employers, health and safety professionals and occupiers of land, a school that failed to carry out a risk assessment in respect of an access road on which a staff member suffered a serious accident nevertheless escaped liability for her injuries.
After the woman was struck and knocked down by a car on the private road leading to the nursery school, the driver's insurers accepted liability and agreed to pay her £200,000 in damages. The insurers, however, sought a contribution to that bill from the school on the basis that the layout of the road was defective, in that there was no footpath and vehicles were not segregated from pedestrians.
In ruling on the matter, the High Court noted that the school had not carried out a risk assessment of the road, which was wide enough to accommodate a footpath or road markings demarcating areas for exclusive use by pedestrians.
In rejecting the insurers' arguments, however, it found that the accident would only have been prevented had the road been fully pedestrianised and closed to vehicular traffic. Even had a risk assessment been performed, it would not have resulted in that precaution being taken and so the school's failure did not cause the accident.
The road was in any event rarely used by vehicles and the Court found that, even had a footpath been in place, pedestrians would still have walked on the road. The precautions taken by the school were adequate in the circumstances and it had not breached its duties either at common law or under occupiers' liability legislation.
In this case, the Court was satisfied that further action on the part of the school would not have prevented the woman's accident. However, property owners who do not act to eliminate foreseeable risks receive little sympathy from the courts.