Property owners who fail to keep their visitors reasonably safe can be hit hard in the pocket. In one such case, a confused patient who fell off a hospital roof has won the right to a substantial compensation settlement from an NHS trust.
The diabetic man was taken to the hospital by ambulance after suffering a severe hypoglycaemic attack. He has a phobia of hospitals and, within 15 minutes of his arrival at A&E, decided that he would leave the moment the nurse's back was turned. He made his way up to the hospital's flat roof, via two unlocked doors and five flights of stairs, before falling into a courtyard below.
The man, who was prone to single-minded and stubborn behaviour as a result of head injuries sustained in a road accident some years earlier, suffered multiple fractures and catastrophic brain damage. Six years after his fall, he remains an inpatient in a rehabilitation unit and will never again be able to lead an independent life.
In finding the trust fully liable to compensate him, the High Court ruled that he was a lawful visitor to the A&E department and did not become a trespasser when he made his way into the hospital's non-public areas. In his confused state, he had probably been looking for a way out of the hospital. The Court found that he had fallen, rather than jumped, from the roof and had not been trying to commit suicide. He had no history of mental illness, depression or ever wanting to end his own life.
The drop from the roof was protected by a fence, but plastic chairs and furniture that were used by hospital staff during rest breaks had provided him with an easy way of scaling it. It was very dark and he had probably misjudged the height of the roof. There had been no assessment of the risk of patients falling from the roof and it would have been a simple and relatively cheap step to install locks on the door giving access to the stairwell.
Rejecting arguments that the man was partly to blame for his own misfortune, the Court noted that hospitals have to expect some patients to be mentally confused. To find him in any way responsible would amount to penalising him for being ill or of unsound mind. The amount of his compensation remains to be assessed but, given the extent of his injuries, is likely to be a seven-figure sum.