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John Lewis Cleared of Liability for Pensioner's Car Park Tripping Accident

Not every accident is someone else's fault. The High Court powerfully made that point in the case of an elderly man who sustained devastating injuries when he tripped over a kerb in a car park adjacent to a Waitrose supermarket.

The man, in his 80s, was on a shopping trip with his wife when she parked their car in a disabled bay. He caught his foot on a kerb adjoining the bay and fell, hitting his head. Amongst other injuries, he sustained traumatic brain damage. He sought compensation from John Lewis Partnership PLC, which owns Waitrose, under the Occupiers' Liability Act 1957. His claim was, however, dismissed following a trial.

Ruling on his challenge to that outcome, the Court found that the presence of the kerb would have been apparent to any user of the bay. Constructed of light-coloured stone, it could be readily seen and did not constitute a trap. It was not of abnormal height, defective or in a state of disrepair. Any danger to users of the car park posed by the kerb was therefore obvious and John Lewis was under no duty to warn against it.

The Court emphasised that not every accident, even if it has serious consequences, has to be the fault of another. An occupier is not an insurer against injuries sustained on premises over which it exerts control. Even had the man succeeded in proving that John Lewis breached its duty of care, it had not been established that any such breach caused the accident.

He was fully aware of the kerb's presence and simply misjudged his step, as he might have done on any kerb, in any location. It was, in short, a true accident and nothing that John Lewis did, or failed to do, caused it. Whilst expressing sympathy for the serious injuries he sustained, the Court dismissed his appeal.