• In the case of Geary v JD Weatherspoon Plc [2011] EWHC 1506, the principle of voluntary risk assumption had been detrimental to C’s claim as C had freely elected to do something which she was aware posed danger

Facts of the Case

  • D operated a pub close to the train station in the Newcastle City Centre; C had been drinking in this pub
  • The building had been refurbished, but what had been left from the previous establishment was a grand open staircase in the centre of the building, with sweeping banisters on both sides, rising to a half-landing and then turning upwards on either side to the first floor
  • C slid down, fell and fractured her spine; tetraplegia developed and C became confined to a wheelchair
  • Previously, people were tempted to slide down and a narrative of past similar incidents had developed
  • There was some doubt as to whether the Claimant had fallen from the section of staircase running down to the half-landing, or whether she had fallen from the top of the lower section of the staircase, just past the half-landing

Issues in Geary v JD Weatherspoon Plc [2011] EWHC 1506

  • C claimed for damages under negligence and, more specifically, a breach of the common law duty of care

Held by the High Court (Queen’s Bench Division)

  • Appeal dismissed – much to C’s disappointment, it was held that C had made a genuine and informed choice to slide down and the risk that she chose, as well as the consequences of it, were C’s bearing; D owed no duty to protect C from such an obvious and inherent risk

Coulson J

Dismissed the appeal; the claim failed because the judge did not find sufficient proximity and specific facts which suggested a voluntary assumption of responsibility on the part of D, and there was no evidence of reliance at all

  • ‘It seems to me that that concession was rightly made: indeed, the authorities, some of which I have noted above, are all the other way, with the courts having repeatedly held that, if the choice was freely made, there could be no such duty.’ [at paragraph 44]
  • ‘For the reasons set out above, I consider that no relevant duty of care was owed by the Defendant to the Claimant. In those circumstances it is unnecessary for me to go on to consider questions of breach. I have also concluded that, even if both duty and breach had been made out, the probability must be that they were non-causative, and that the Claimant would have slid anyway, even if the banister had been at normal height.’ [paragraph 77]