20 November, 2017
Westoby v Humber Bridge Board
Derby County Court
The claimant was walking in a Country Park when he allegedly tripped in a manmade hole and sustained a personal injury.
The claimant alleged that there were five manmade holes that had been dug using spades and that these holes had rendered the Park unsafe. If the holes had not been manmade, the claimant argued that the defendant ought to have signs in place to warn of the presence of holes, a system of filling the holes and a better system for reporting accidents.
The defendant denied that the holes were manmade and contended that they were caused by wildlife. The defendant provided detailed evidence confirming that the accident locus was home to a large population of rabbits, squirrels and moles. The defendant maintained that it be too onerous to fill in rabbit warrens and/or mole hills and such a practice would damage wildlife habitats.
The defendant also sought to rely on the claimant's own medical notes that recorded on the day of the accident that he 'fell down a rabbit hole'.
Following the trial the claimant's case was dismissed. Dealing with the primary limb of the claimant's case the Judge was satisfied that the holes were caused by wildlife in the Park. The Court was also satisfied that the defendant had acted reasonably and they had therefore discharged the duty owed to the claimant.
This is a great result, the Park in question is a 48 acre site with open meadows and wildlife ponds. It is open every day of the year and is a local nature reserve. The public goal of the Park is to balance recreational activities with conserving wildlife. As the Judge pointed out, it would be an impossible task to fill in every hole and to do so would damage wildlife habitats and alter the overall character of the site.