When a car park is not a road
A teacher was pushing a fully laden shopping trolley with her toddler daughter sitting inside the trolley and her three year old son holding her hand as they moved towards her car in the car park. It was another day of hassles for a working mum, and it was about to get worse.
Suddenly the front wheel of the trolley caught in a pothole. The trolley tipped over and the mother desperately reached to save her child in the trolley from being crushed by the tumbling trolley. In making her instinctive lunge to protect her child the mother of three fell and the heavy trolley landed on top of her.
The teacher was injured and left with ongoing pain in her neck, shoulder, back, left hip, leg and knee. The fall left her unable to work and her frustration and constant pain led to strained relations with her family and husband.
She sued the council that owned the car park. Her lawyer argued the council should have repaired the pothole that caused the accident.
The council argued it didn’t know about the pothole. Besides, the council argued, the car park was a vehicle thoroughfare and therefore was a public road. That meant the council was protected by section 45 of the Civil Liability Act 2002 that exempts a roads authority from liability if it didn’t know about the pothole. The trial judge agreed, and dismissed the injured mother’s claim.
The injured mother took the case to the Court of Appeal. The appeal judges ruled the car park was not a public road as the council never formally classified it as a road. The appeal court said the trial judge had wrongly relied on council evidence that some drivers used the car park to get from one road to another. That didn’t make it a road as classified by the Roads Act 1993, the Appeal Court found, and ruled in favour of the injured mother.
The injured mother was awarded $285,000, and the court ordered the council to pay the mother’s legal costs for the trial and the appeal.
“Cases like this show the need to have experienced lawyers specialising in compensation law to fight in court for you,” said Justin Stack of Stacks Law Firm.
“This case hinged on the legal definition of what is a road and how it differs from a car park where some cars drive through to get somewhere else. It may seem a quirky legal point, but specialist compensation lawyers have the experience to win these legal arguments.”