The duty of care to grit public car parks

Category: Personal Injury, Road Accident

Back in 2019, the Court of Appeal considered the duty of care owed by Local Authorities to grit public car parks.

The case went back to the cold winter of 2012.  Mr Ivor Cook who was 78 at the time visited the Bush Car Park which is situated in a suburban area of Swansea.  It was a Council car park managed by Swansea City Council.

accident in public place

The background

This car park in question was reasonably small accommodating just 40 cars.  It was open 24 hours a day 7 days a week, but it was open to the elements.  The evidence showed that Swansea City Council had 46 car parks to look after, but most of these were unmanned.  At this time, the Council’s policy was not to proactively grit the unmanned car parks.  However, if a member of the public reported a dangerous area caused by ice in the car park, the council would send someone out to grit it.  This caused a reactive system of gritting.

Ivor Cook had parked his car at about 10.30am and was walking towards the ticket machine on a slight slope when he slipped on black ice near the ticket machine.  He fell and sustained injuries.  His case was brought under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 and when his case was heard in the Swansea County Court the Judge found that the Council was not in breach of a duty of care under the 1957 Act. Mr Cook felt that was unduly harsh and took his case to the Court of Appeal.

What happened at the Court of Appeal?

The Court of Appeal reminded itself that in these sorts of cases, the Court had to look at a number of factors including: –

  1. The likelihood that someone may be injured.
  2. Seriousness of the injury that may incur.
  3. The social value of the activity which gives rise to the risk.
  4. The cost of preventative measures.
  5. There is also generally no duty to protect against obvious danger.

Factors 1 & 5. 

Applying those principles to this case, the risk of ice in the cold weather is obvious. Moreover, people out and about need to be aware of the situations and the need to take care.  This car park did not pose a particular risk compared to any other of the Defendant’s car parks.  There had been no previous reports of dangerous ice, nor any previous accidents due to ice.

Factor 2.

The seriousness of injury. This was a rather neutral factor as slipping injuries can cause trivial or sometimes serious injuries.

Factor 3.

Social value of the activity which gives risk to the risk. It had to be borne in mind that 24-hour parking was a useful facility.  If gritting of unmanned car parks is required whenever there was a report of icy conditions, then the Council would be forced to close the car parks in case of adverse weather which would cause considerable inconvenience to local residents and visitors and would also be very difficult to manage.

Factor 4.

The cost of preventative measures. It was simply too high a burden to suggest that the Council should grit all their car parks by hand. This would involve a significant use of staff and resources. This measure was disproportionate and expensive in relation to the level of risk. In addition, it also averted resources from situations where attention was more urgently required.

Mr Cook therefore lost his case. However…

What would happen if a supermarket didn’t grit it’s car park?

This case does not mean that an occupier can never be liable for failing to grit a car park.  Every case has to be decided on its own facts.  For example, when considering the duty of a supermarket to grit its car parks a very different consideration would apply as the supermarket has only the one car park to look after and if customers are coming to the car park to spend money in the supermarket it is only reasonable that the supermarket should take reasonable measures to grit any areas of ice to make the customers reasonably safe when visiting the supermarket.

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What next

If you have any questions, please contact Mike Shiers in our Personal Injury team on 01752 827085 or email [email protected]. Alternatively, you can ask us to call you back by filling out our Contact Form.