The claimant was a guest at a grand hall in Harrogate.

She was using the ladies toilets and, as she stood to pull up her trousers, the lights went out. The cubicle was plunged into darkness and she became disorientated. While trying to fasten her trousers and open the door she lost her footing and fell, fracturing her ankle.

It transpired that the lighting in the toilet was operated by a motion sensor that turned the lights off after 20 minutes of non-movement. The sensor was located in the room outside the toilet so the lights could not be re-activated from inside once they had gone out.

After the accident, a sign was put in place advising guests of the 20-minute motion activation. The claimant gave evidence that, had the sign been in place pre-accident, she would have been quicker or would have used the toilets in her room – she had a delicate stomach and knew she may have needed longer.

The defendant argued that their duty under the Occupiers’ Liability Act was to take reasonable steps to keep visitors reasonably safe and they had done this. There was no history of accidents and the use of motion sensors was ecologically sound.

The Judge commented light heartedly that he could say from personal experience that one sometimes needed to be in the toilet for more than 20 minutes. He found it was reasonably foreseeable that guests could be in the toilets for more than 20 minutes and it is reasonably foreseeable that they could be injured if plunged into darkness.

He said the location of the sensor was misguided and the absence of a warning was unreasonable.

Judgment for the Claimant. There was no finding of contributory negligence.

Newcastle upon Tyne CC, 24 March 2010.