Local authorities can breathe a sigh of relief as a result of the recent Court of Appeal decision in Edwards v London Borough of Sutton where London Borough of Sutton was found not liable for an accident in which a member of the public fell from a bridge in Beddington Park resulting in life changing injuries.
The bridge was a small stone arched ornamental bridge with a low parapet either side, which was around 150 years old. Although the Court of Appeal found that the bridge was a “danger” on the premises, it was necessary to consider the risk that the danger presented. The absence of any previous accident was a significant factor especially in light of the age and usage of the bridge. The risk here was minimal.
The decision confirms the ruling from the case of Tomlinson v Congleton Borough Council  that occupiers are not duty bound to protect members of the public against dangers that are obvious. The Court was not concerned by the lack of risk assessment, as on the facts this would have made no difference, it would only have highlighted the obvious risk of falling that was apparent to any user of the bridge.
There was no requirement for railings to be fitted to the bridge to bring it up to modern safety standards this would have affected the character and appearance of the bridge and was out of proportion to the risk faced.
What this means for you
Ornamental bridges are often found in parks and public gardens, this case shows that local authorities and other organisations do not have a duty to advise members of the public about obvious dangers that may arise from using these types of bridges. In this case, the low parapet posed an obvious potential danger but the risk of falling was considered minimal.
A word of warning, this case concerned a very old ornamental bridge, modern bridges should comply with the appropriate standard at the time they are built. Also the decision may well have been different if there had been a history of previous complaints or accidents due to people falling or injuring themselves.
Putting the words of caution to one side, this is a common sense decision and a valuable defendant victory which will be welcomed by local authorities.