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Case study: Property owner’s duty to warn people of hazards

On 4 September 2013, a judge of the District Court in Queensland gave judgment in the sum of $445,515.90 plus costs, for a claim for loss of dependency arising out of the death of Mr Cawood Hancock from injuries sustained when he fell down a drain pipe on residential land in Indooroopilly in Brisbane. The case came before the courts and is known publicly as the case of Johnson & Anor v Hancock [2014] QCA 130.

The judge found Mr Hancock’s fall and subsequent death were caused by the property owners' negligence in failing to warn Mr Hancock about the presence of the drain pipe. The property owners appealed this decision in the Queensland Court of Appeal. This Appeal was later dismissed on 3 June 2014.

Mr Hancock's accident

Mr Hancock fell into the drainage pipe whilst undertaking gardening work at the Indooroopilly property on 7 October 2009. The incident happened whilst Mr Hancock and his assistant, Mr Fenech, were trimming shrubbery in an area located behind a pool and adjacent to the rear boundary of the property.

While they were doing gardening work, Mr Hancock stepped back onto an area of ground somewhat lower than the pool area. This area contained a 900 millimetres diameter drainage pipe covered by a metal lid and contained a metal grate to prevent entry into the pipe.

When Mr Hancock stepped onto that area of ground, the metal lid and grate collapsed under his weight. Mr Hancock fell down into the drainage pipe which was over two metres deep and sustained a serious injury to his knee. As a result of the reduced mobility, he developed deep vein thrombosis in his right leg, which resulted in a pulmonary embolism, which later caused his death.

The metal lid that sat over the pipe, which had a lip around its circumference enabling the cover to fit over the circular steel grate, appeared to have rusted over time, as had the grate. The existence of the drainage pipe was not recorded on any drainage plan, and was not known to the local authority. The drainage pipe had, however, been in situ for many years.

The trial judge found it likely the drainage pipe dated from around the time a drainage easement was created in 1965 over land running along the northern boundary of the property. Whilst the presence of the pipe was not recorded on any drainage plan, a search of the title of the property revealed the existence of the drainage easement.

This case highlights the important responsibility of home owners to provide people with a safe and healthy environment, whether the people entering your property are friends, tradesmen or neighbours.

Click to access the judgment to the case.

How do I know if I'm able to make a public liability claim?

There are legal options if you have suffered a public injury. Compensation claims can be made through the courts, which can be successful if it's proven that you suffered because of someone else's negligence.

I think I have a public liability claim, what should I do next?

It's important that you contact a public liability lawyer with experience in public injuries claims as soon as possible to make sure your interests are looked after.

Shine Lawyers' Public Liability team will be able to advise you of your entitlements. Advice is obligation free, and your lawyer can come to you at home or hospital.

The Shine Lawyers No Win No Fee policy is available for public injuries claims. This is designed to help people whose financial circumstances might otherwise deny them access to legal representation.


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Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: July 23, 2017.

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