Despite what you might think from the stories in the popular press, not all accidents lead to big settlements for claimants. In a recent case the Court of Appeal dismissed a £150,000 damages claim brought against the Royal British Legion by a woman who broke her leg. The Cort viewed the incident as a 'proper accident', and no-one's fault. The accident occurred in April 2001 when Yvonne Cole, from Eastbourne, tripped over the a hole in the village green of nearby of East Dean, where a maypole used to stand. Until 1999, the British Legion had organised an annual fete, featuring maypole dancing, in the village. The hole left by the pole was filled in at that time and one of the residents, who was also a member of the Legion, had checked to make sure the job had been done properly. The hole only became exposed again shortly before Mrs Cole’s accident.
Originally, the lower court found the British Legion liable for Mrs Cole’s leg injury and set compensation at £150,000. The Legion appealed against the decision.
In the Court of Appeal’s view, the British Legion could not be said to have been negligent. Although the hole was filled in by a member of the organisation, he was in reality ‘a member of the community making his own contribution to the village and its safety’. There was no evidence as to how the hole reappeared. Whilst the Court expressed sympathy for Mrs Cole, it judged that if the claim were allowed it would threaten village traditions that go back centuries.
Lord Justice Scott Baker said: “Accidents happen and sometimes they are what can only be described as ‘proper accidents’, in the sense that the victim cannot recover damages because fault cannot be established.” The British Legion clearly took reasonable steps to make the green safe. If the courts were to require a higher standard of care than what is reasonable, the consequence could well be a flood of claims for compensation for accidents which a reasonable person would regard as being no one’s fault.
The decision in this case has been hailed as a victory for common sense by those campaigning against what they perceive as being an increase in the ‘compensation culture’.