Gumnut case highlights insurance need

HOMEOWNERS should treat a $55,000 compensation payout, ordered after an elderly aunt slipped on a gumnut, as a wake-up call on the need for public liability insurance.

Brisbane lawyer Mark O'Connor said homeowners who ignored obvious dangers around their property could be held liable if a visitor fell and was injured. But adding public liability to their home insurance policies could save them.

The Bennett and Philp Lawyers director said visitors included home property maintenance people, gardeners and even the person entering a property to read the power meter or people attending a garage sale.

Judge William Everson has ordered Tim and Jane Graham to pay Florence Welch, Mrs Graham's 76-year-old aunt, $55,000 for slipping at their Brisbane home in November, 2006.

In a judgment posted online this week, Judge Everson said Mrs Welch was a regular visitor to the home to help Mrs Graham care for her young twins.

He said the Grahams were not home when Mrs Welch slipped because they were in hospital with their "newborn third child who was very sick".

"The house is in a bushland setting with two flights of wooden sleeper steps," he said.

"Above the lower flight of steps is a relatively small tree ... the gumnut tree.

"(Mr Graham) gave evidence he would regularly sweep the stairs when he did the gardening and gumnuts randomly appeared on the stairs, sometimes within moments of sweeping them.

"I accept neither (Grahams) seriously considered the gumnut tree posed a danger to people using the stairs, and that the sweeping of the stairs only occurred as part of the routine maintenance of their property."

Judge Everson said Mrs Welch was leaving the house when she injured herself and found the Grahams were "negligent" by failing to maintain a safe access to the house.

"She felt something under her shoe before she fell and subsequently noticed gumnuts in the vicinity," he said.

"The sweeping of the stairs was clearly ineffectual in mitigating the risk the gumnuts posed to people accessing the house via the stairs."

Mr O'Connor, who was not involved in the case, urged homeowners to check and ensure they were covered.

But he said the gumnut incident was not a green light for people to claim thousands if they fell over at a friend or family member's home.

"The courts have generally found home owners are not expected to have the same level of strict safety precautions as would be expected for commercial premises," he said.

"Generally the courts look at a safety risk and ask could the risk be foreseen, and if so could an accident be prevented?

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