Insurers can breathe a sigh of relief due to a recent Court of Appeal case decision, Beech v Speare, that hopefully marks a sea change in the industry - away from a nanny state and towards a duty on individuals to look after themselves.

This case saw the claimant, Susan Beech, suing Devonshire Road Evangelical Church in Altrincham, after tripping over the church's perimeter chain link fencing.

The claimant had been a regular visitor to the church for four years and conceded, in evidence, that she must have known of the existence of the fence.

From the car park, the claimant had seen her five-year-old son behaving excitedly on the coach and she decided to go and knock on the coach window telling him to sit down.

As she moved forward, she tripped over the chain link fence, falling to the ground, dislocating her left elbow and fracturing her right leg.

The original judgment found in favour of the claimant, a decision that could have caused potential liability across the country to any public premises that had chain link fencing. As a result, it would have had worrying implications for the insurance industry that individuals are not necessarily responsible for themselves.

With a reversal of the judgment in the Court of Appeal, some realism has been brought back to society.

On appeal, the key point held was that an individual could reasonably expect to find a boundary fence where it was and that the fence would not have taken any visitor by surprise.

The original decision was wholly unjust and, if upheld, would have been a further step towards a society where there was no duty on individuals to look after themselves.

While it was unfortunate that the claimant suffered injury in the accident, the Court of Appeal confirmed this was nothing more than a pure accident in which Beech was entirely the author of her own misfortune.

It is pleasing to see the Court of Appeal accepting that accidents are not always someone else's fault.

  • Julian Holt is a partner at Elliotts Solicitors, who handled the defence on behalf of the defendant.

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