Occupier’s liability – slip and fall …

… Steps – handrail – building code – no prior incidents

On 6 July 2019, the Respondent fell as she descended a set of steps within McDonald Jones Stadium. The steps were wet, of uneven width and had no handrail.

Eight years before this incident, the stairway had been certified as fully compliant and there was no history of any earlier falls despite being used by millions of spectators. Yellow nosing strips were installed to the edge of the steps after the incident. 

The trial judge found in favour of the Respondent on the basis that the failure to install a handrail alongside the steps amounted to a breach of the duty of care. The critical issue on appeal was whether a reasonable person in the position of the Appellant would install a handrail as precaution against the risk of harm resulting from the stadium steps. 


Appeal allowed. Leeming JA, Adamson JA and Simpson AJA delivered 17 August 2023


The NSW Court of Appeal accepted the risk of spectators slipping on the steps and injuring themselves was reasonably foreseeable and not insignificant.

However, it was held that a reasonable occupier in the Appellant’s position would not have installed a handrail because there were many situations where the handrail would be ineffective (for example, when large crowds were ascending/descending the steps, if a patron had their hands full, or a patron was unable to walk adjacent to the handrail because of two-way traffic on the stairs), the stairs were commonplace in stadiums and the absence of any history of similar incidents or injuries. 


Notwithstanding the stairs being certified as compliant, it was submitted at trial the building code mandated the use of handrails and steps of even width.

While the court did not express a firm view about this point, because of the absence of submissions on this issue during the appeal, the court indicated it would not have made a difference to its findings. 

Hugh Powell is a Partner at Travis Schultz & Partners.

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