HM successfully pursues homeowner in dangerous gate case

We have successfully represented a Scottish man suing a homeowner in relation to a road traffic accident caused by a dangerous gate.

What happened?

The pursuer was driving along a road in Lanarkshire when, suddenly and without warning, a large wooden gate owned by the defender swung out into the road and into the path of the pursuer’s vehicle. The gate provided access to the garage area of the defender’s property.

Road Accident Compensation Gate Safety Public Liability

The pursuer swerved his vehicle in an attempt to avoid the gate but subsequently collided head on with another vehicle heading in the opposite direction. The pursuer sustained a number of physical injuries as well as psychological injuries.

The Sheriff in the case decided that the accident had been caused by the defender failing to take reasonable steps to prevent his gate swinging out onto the road. It was also accepted that the gate had not been secured on the evening before the accident.

The Sheriff thereafter decided that the pursuer’s injury, loss and damage were as a result of the defender’s failures and compensation in excess of £25,000 was awarded, accordingly.

Arguing the case

Harper MacLeod, argued on behalf of the pursuer that the latch on the gate was not secure and that winds in the area would cause the gate to regularly blow open and outwards into the road. It was argued that the defender had a duty to take reasonable care to ensure that the gate was secured correctly and to ensure that the gate was tethered and would not swing out onto the road. It was the pursuer’s position that the defender had failed to take reasonable steps to ensure that the gate was tethered on the night of the accident. If the gate had been securely tethered, it would not have swung into the road, causing injury and loss. It was reasonably foreseeable that if the gate was not securely tethered, given the severity of local winds, it would swing into the road presenting a hazard to road users.

Liability was disputed by the defender’s legal team and the case, thus, proceeded to Court.

The Court heard evidence from the pursuer as well as witnesses who had seen the gate swing open on to the road on previous occasions, as well as engineering experts, the defender, the defender’s wife, and the reporting police officer.

The construction of the gate; the nature and extent of the securing mechanisms; and also the fact that the gate had the potential to swing outwards onto the road and cover the majority of the carriageway, were agreed by both parties. The issue, at Court, was what had caused the metal hook and latch on the gate to fail.

The Court heard evidence from the pursuer and defender’s engineering experts who reported that the screws attaching the hook and latch to the gate had failed due to wind buffeting. That had caused the securing mechanism to fall to the ground and thereafter, caused the gate to swing open.
Both engineers stated that the defender would have been unlikely to notice the screws becoming loose over a period of time and that this period of time could have been days or weeks or even a couple of hours depending on the wind speeds. This view was formed by both experts following their site visits and their discussions with the defender and his wife.

However, the defender and his wife stated in court that the metal latch had actually sheared, which in turn had caused the gate to swing free. They made no mention of finding the latch on the driveway and the screws beside it. It was their evidence that the latch had actually sheared off.

The defender and his wife also went on to give differing opinions as to who had found the latch and who had disposed of it. The police officer who attended following the accident gave evidence that the securing mechanism on the gate had not failed at all and that he specifically remembered moving the gate back from the open position over the carriageway and securing it on the driveway with the hook and latch.

In light of this conflicting evidence, the Sheriff decided that the screws of the latch had not failed. The Sheriff disagreed with the defender’s submission that the pursuer required to prove the inadequacy of the hook and latch mechanism in order to establish liability.

The defender’s agents also argued that as the securing mechanism had been sheared, this demonstrated that the gate had initially been secured. However, the Sheriff preferred the reporting officer’s evidence that he secured the gate back in place after the accident, thus demonstrating that the hook and latch could not have been broken and the gate simply hadn’t been adequately secured prior to the accident.

It was thus accepted by the Sheriff that the accident had been caused by the defender failing to take reasonable steps to prevent his gate swinging out onto the road. It was also accepted that the gate had not been secured on the evening before the accident.

The Sheriff thereafter decided that the pursuer’s injury, loss and damage were as a result of the defender’s failures and compensation in excess of £25,000 was awarded, accordingly.

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