24 May, 2012
James and Davis -v- Conwy County Borough Council
Conwy and Colwyn County Court - District Judge Jones-Evans
Forbes successfully defended Conwy County Borough Council in a claim for damages when a boat's mooring failed to keep it in situ and the vessel floated downstream colliding with a number of other boats including the Claimants' boat.
The Claimants alleged that the very happening of the accident was proof in itself of negligence of the Council's negligence.
In assessing the Claimants' "the facts speak for themselves" approach, the Court emphasised that despite the matter being heard in the Conwy and Colwyn County Court, the legal tests and principles applied just the same, had the matter proceeded in the Admiraly Court in London.
In this regard, the case demonstrates the multi-faceted nature of a claim in negligence and, therefore, the variety of grounds on which a Defendant can seek to contest claims.
The Court stated that it was for the Claimants to show that: firstly, a duty of care existed; secondly, that duty was breached by Conwy CBC; thirdly, the breach caused the loss; and finally, the loss was not too remote.
It was generally accepted that a duty of care was owed by Conwy to the Claimants. The Court was also satisfied that the amounts claimed were entirely in proportion to the damage incurred. However, the Claimants then had to show that the Council failed to live up to the standard of a reasonable harbour authority in maintaining the harbour and mooring.
For the Claimants' argument that "the facts speak for themselves" to succeed the Court would have to impose an absolute duty on the Defendants, such that the Council would be strictly liable if damage occurred.
Neither the Defendants' witnesses nor the Claimants themselves could explain how the 1.5 tonne underwater mooring had come loose to allow the vessel to move down the river. As such, the Court could not make a finding on the cause of the accident. Additionally, when the Court considered that there had been no comparable incidents in the past twenty years it followed that the events as they had occurred were not foreseeable.
The Council was held to have acted entirely reasonably in inspecting moorings on a yearly basis and the mooring blocks and length of chains had been found to be perfectly adequate and reasonable for their purposes on the pre incident inspection. The Court also found that the method used by the Council for calculating the correct length of the chain between the mooring and the vessel, to be appropriate taking into account the depth of the bay and the highest possible tide. .
In fact, the Court stated that the uniqueness and mystery of this accident was itself a sign that "the Council had acted properly" and it would take a number of other accidents of this kind before the Council should have to consider changing its systems, equipment, and procedures.
On the basis, therefore, that the Council had acted reasonably the Court found there had been no breach of duty. Further, the Court held that this was not a foreseeable event, meaning the Claimants had failed to prove every aspect of the test for negligence and the claim was dismissed.
This case shows that as long as the Council's policies and procedures are reasonable, and as long as the Council can show the reason why these policies are in place, then, whether the Council is looking to show the reasonableness of its highways inspection, or as in this case, its methods of calculating the length of chains attached to moorings and its frequency of inspection of those moorings, the claim can be defended.
Further still, the judgment in this instance has served to prevent claims by the owners of the other vessels damaged in this incident and indeed for future incidents, showing that the robust approach by the Local Authority, Forbes' and Gallagher Bassett the Claims Handlers in defending such claims has a tangible effect on claims Local Authorities can face.