The pitfalls of pursuing an action against a Council
Canterbury Bankstown Council successfully defended a claim by a plaintiff pedestrian who suffered a fall as a result of a crack which formed around a Telstra pit. The plaintiff was unable to establish the risk of harm was not insignificant, and the Court also explored the protections offered to roads authorities under section 45 of the Civil Liability Act 2002 (NSW) (‘CLA’).
The key issues for determination by the Court were:
whether the defendant Council breached its duty of care to the plaintiff by failing to repair a crack in the footpath; and
even if negligence was established, did the protections offered by section 45 of the CLA apply?
On 27 February 2016, the plaintiff was walking on a footpath, accompanied by her son, when she tripped on a crack which had formed around a Telstra pit.
The plaintiff alleged the defendant Council owed her a duty of care to ensure the pit and its surroundings were maintained in such a manner as to not create a hazard for pedestrians walking in the area including the plaintiff.
The Decision at Trial
His Honour found in favour of the defendant, concluding that “the risk of harm was not only not significant, but insignificant”. That finding was based on the plaintiff’s evidence concerning the fall, the photograph of the crack and the distinct lack of expert evidence about the physical properties of the crack.
Notwithstanding the finding that the Council was not negligent, his Honour took the opportunity to review section 45 of the CLA, which provides special non-feasance protection for “roads authorities”, such as the Council. Section 45 provides that a roads authority cannot be found liable for harm arising out of a failure to carry out road works, or to consider carrying out road works, unless at the time of the alleged failure the roads authority had actual knowledge of the particular risk that materialised.
His Honour found that even if negligence had been established, the Council had no actual knowledge of the particular risk of harm, and therefore the immunity conferred by section 45 CLA applied. His Honour further held that even if the crack was a significant risk, the immunity would still apply, as section 45 CLA covers a failure to inspect.
Implications for you
The decision reinforces the protections that section 45 CLA offers roads authorities, including Councils, in claims that arise out of injuries sustained on public footpaths and roads..