Monday, December 19, 2011

Santa's Elves need to keep the workshop floor clear of obstacles

An elderly lady accompanying five members of her family to Santa’s grotto at a well known department store in London was injured during her visit, and the jury (not a team of reindeer) decided in her favor.  She successfully sued the events management company organizing the festive treat blaming Santa and his elf for failing to prevent her fall.

The grotto was operated by two employees, one who played Santa and the other an elf.  The elf escorted visitors in and out of the grotto whilst Santa sat on his customary throne entertaining his guests.  The elf and Santa both stated that they checked for loose items on the floor.  The injured lady's case was that she had lost her balance by stepping on a plastic icicle on the floor of the grotto which should have been seen and removed.

Santa and Elf leaving the Courthouse
Section 2 of the UK Occupiers’ Liability Act of 1957 required the events company to see that visitors would be reasonably safe in visiting the grotto.  This was found to not be the case.  The elf was concerned with many other duties – at a guess – toy-making and feeding reindeer perhaps!  It was found that Santa and the elf were not as careful in checking the floor as they should have been. If the icicle was there to be stepped on, it was there to be seen.

The overly benevolent view of the performance by Santa and the elf of their duties at first instance was overturned by the Court of Appeal who allowed the claim. Their checking of the grotto floor was held inadequate in protecting the public from falls.

Making a List, Checking it Twice!

Santa with his Safety Checklist
With claims against events holders attracting increasing publicity, this case highlights that the bar is set high for those responsible for carrying out hazard spotting.  Some guidance can be gleaned for events managers from the facts that have been touched upon in this case.  The main problem the events company could not overcome was the concern that time demands on their staff limited their attention towards taking precautions.  Staffing should be suited to the event in order to demonstrate that sufficient time and regard has been given to periodic checks, ideally being documented, as part of a documented risk assessment.  A higher standard of inspection is demanded for smaller areas such as this grotto, particularly in the context of the poor lighting present.

Employees need to be extra vigilant at all times, even in the season of goodwill to all men.

Be on the lookout for reindeer poo, too!  That could make you slip and fall off of the roof.

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