At Lian Hall Injury Law we hear from people who are injured in accidents at local parks and national parks. A surprising number of falls happen when a person misses a step or misjudges a step or on occasion doesn’t even see the step. But when is a local authority liable for a person’s accident? And when is a step so obvious that you can’t blame somebody if you fall over it?

The case of Williams v Wollongong City Council [2020] NSWDC 564 looked at this issue.

By way of background, on 17 May 2016Mr Williams, who was employed as a disability worker at the time, was visiting the Mt Keira Summit Park with a disabled client. The client wanted to use the bathroom. To get to the bathroom Mr Williams had to walk down a pathway which had 3 broad steps with a landing for each. Mr Williams walked down the path towards the toilet block but didn’t see the first step. He fell and badly injured his arm and wrist. The pathway was brick paved. Mr Williams said that the path was covered by the shadow of vegetation and trees at the time and that he didn’t see the step.

The Local Authority argued that it had done a lot of work in the areas to make the area safe, including installing ramps, railings, tactile indicators etc to address any safety concerns, and that the step would have been obvious to anybody walking down the path. The Local Authority argued that had Mr Williams been keeping a lookout while he was walking down the path that he would have seen the step, therefore the reason why he fell was that he had not been looking properly.

The Court disagreed. The Court said that the test was “…whether there were sufficient visual or other cues provided to alert a pedestrian …” [65]. The Court said that a person in Mr Williams’ position, even when taking care for his own safety, could easily miss the step because the step was in the shade of trees and vegetation and a pergola. Also, when a person walks down the path towards the toilets there was nothing to suggest that there could be steps on the path.

The Court also thought that had the nosing’s of the steps been painted in a bright colour the accident would not have happened.

Mr Williams was awarded $600,000 in compensation. He was over 60 at this time. Had he been younger at the time of the accident compensation could have been far higher.

This case is interesting because the toilet block was in a National Park where people would be expected to come across hills and descents, uneven ground, and vegetation and deep shading from trees. Nevertheless the Court seemed to say that if you build a step or some other obstacle on a path that you need to make sure that there are “visual clues” to its position so that it doesn’t cause an accident. This would typically involve considering things such as the lighting around the step, any change in colours or signs to bring a person’s attention to the existence of the step. If you have had a fall on a step you should take particular note of the visual clues and discuss your case with an experience personal injury lawyer.