‘Compensation culture’ is a favourite phrase of those who have little understanding of the law. In one case which proves the point, a man who fell into a castle moat due to the absence of a warning sign has won the right to very substantial damages.
The grandfather was visiting the ancient monument with his wife and grandchildren when he lost his footing on a steep path and was propelled over the edge of a bastion wall. He fell 12 feet into the dry moat, suffering severe head injuries.
He sued the castle’s occupiers, English Heritage, and a judge found that it was 50 per cent responsible for the accident. The sheer drop into the moat did not pose an obvious hazard to visitors to the castle, having not been visible from where the grandfather had previously been standing, and a warning sign should have been in place.
In challenging that ruling before the Court of Appeal, English Heritage argued that it would fuel the popular conception that this country was in the grip of a compensation culture. The occupiers of historic sites that are open to the public would be forced to take an unduly defensive approach and to install unwelcome numbers of unsightly signs.
The Court accepted that English Heritage and other occupiers of visitor attractions face difficult, borderline, decisions about when and where to erect warning signs. In dismissing the appeal, however, it ruled that the judge was entitled to find, on the particular facts of the case that reasonable steps had not been taken to keep the grandfather safe. The amount of his compensation has yet to be assessed.