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Beware of the slippery steps

Drysdale v Hedges (2012) 162 N.L.J. 1056

Mr Hedges was Ms Drysdale’s landlord of a flat. Ms Drysdale sustained serious injuries when she fell down the steps leading to the flat and she claimed damages from Mr Hedges in negligence and occupiers’ liability and under the Defective Premises Act 1972, arguing that his actions in painting the steps with outdoor paint to improve their appearance had made them more slippery and therefore created a foreseeable risk of injury.

The court rejected Ms Drysdale’s claim. When the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 was first enacted it set out a general duty of care in section 2 and a specific landlord’s duty of care in section 4. Section 4 had since been replaced by the Defective Premises Act 1972. The court considered that the purpose of section 4 had been to apply a different level of duty to landlords than to other occupiers and the replacement of section 4 by the 1972 Act had not changed this. Mr Hedges could not therefore be liable as a landlord under the Occupiers’ Liability Act.

Liability under the Defective Premises Act 1972 could only arise if the premises were in disrepair. Painting the steps did not cause them to be in disrepair and therefore there could be no liability under the 1972 Act either. The court also rejected the claim under common law negligence. Whilst Mr Hedges owed a common law duty to take reasonable care not to create an unnecessary risk of injury, painting the steps did not breach this duty. The paint was outdoor paint and the reasonable man in the street would have assumed, absent any warnings on the tin, that it was suitable for painting outdoor steps.