30 June, 2017
Megan Louise Dodd (Widow & Executrix f The Estate Of Paul James Dodd, Deceased) v Raebarn Estates Ltd & 5 Ors (2017)  EWCA Civ 439 CA (Civ Div) (McFarlane LJ, Lewison LJ, McCombe LJ) 21/06/2017
In this matter the Court of Appeal considered whether a freeholder was in breach of its duty of care under section 4(4) of the Defective Premises Act 1972 in relation to a visitor who fell down a staircase without a handrail which did not comply with building regulations.
In this tragic case, the Claimant and her husband were on their honeymoon visiting friends when Mr Dodd fell down a steep staircase with no handrail. He sadly sustained brain damage and died after two years in a coma.
The Claimant widow brought a claim against the Freeholder of the building which was dismissed at first instance. The Claimant appealed to the Court of Appeal arguing that the Freeholder was liable pursuant to s.4 Defective Premises Act 1972.
The crux of the case was whether the lack of a handrail on the steps was a "relevant defect" for the purposes of s.4(3).
The Court of Appeal dismissed the case upholding that where there is no disrepair there can be no liability under the Defective Premises Act 1972. The staircase was steep, with no handrail, but that did not amount to a "relevant defect" for the purposes of s.4(3). The Court held:
"The test of functionality was not the correct test. Part of a building might function inadequately, but it did not follow that it was in disrepair".
If the staircase had never had a handrail (and there was no direct evidence to the contrary) then in the absence of damage or deterioration in the fabric of the staircase such as to give rise to an obligation to repair the claim under the Defective Premises Act had to fail.
Under the Defective Premises Act 1972, a landlord owes a duty to take such care as is reasonable in all the circumstances to see that those persons are reasonably safe from personal injury or from damage to their property caused by a relevant defect.
In this instance, even though the staircase was considered dangerous and in breach of building regulations it did not trigger the landlords' duty under the Defective Premises Act. This case is consistent with existing case law and reinforces that the duty to repair is not the same as the duty to make safe.