The claimant fell through a damaged manhole cover obscured by cut grass. It was the property of Yorkshire Water. It was in the middle of a field owned by a farmer and was part of a public right-of-way across the field.
Yorkshire Water said the claimant could not be a visitor or invitee under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 as she was on a public right of way. They denied they had any statutory duty to her to inspect their land.
They relied on the case of McGeown -v- Northern Ireland Housing Executive  1AC233. This case is binding authority for the proposition that a landowner owes no duty to the public to maintain a public right-of-way, which exists over his property. If the surface of the land falls into disrepair and results in injury, the landowner will not be liable under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957. This is because the injured party would not have been a visitor of the landowner even if the landowner could be described as the occupier of the right-of-way.
We alleged negligence on the basis that the defendant owed a duty to take reasonable care to see that the manhole did not present a risk of injury to persons using the public right-of-way.
We had some evidence from a national park warden that the farmer, on whose land the cover lay, had told Yorkshire Water it was cracked before the accident.
We also alleged that the manhole cover was not sufficiently robust to withstand heavy farm machinery etc. In their witness statements, Yorkshire Water witnesses confirmed that the cover was “medium duty” and suitable for footpaths.
The Judge found for the claimant on two issues:
1. The Judge found that Yorkshire Water should have inspected the manholes from time to time.
2. He found that the manhole cover was not sufficiently robust to withstand being driven over by heavy machinery.
Leeds County Court
Manhole cover 2
The defendant was doing road-surfacing work on a new housing development. To do so, they raised manhole covers about 1.5 inches off the ground. To remedy the hazard, they put a little ramp of sand and cement to the top of the manhole cover. This had crumbled over about six months, leaving a lip of about 22 mm from the top of the mixture to the top of the manhole cover.
The claimant was a visiting refuse collector. His heel caught on the lip as he pulled some bins backwards and he fell and was injured.
The defendant said 22mm did not represent a dangerous hazard, in line with Mills -v- Barnsley MBC, although that was a highway case and this a private development.
The Judge ruled that the hazard should be taken in its entirety as one of 1½ inches and that the mixture had not been adequately or securely applied. In fact, the sand and cement may have lulled pedestrians into a false sense of security that there was no trap.
Judgment for the Claimant