£341,000 damages over broken toilet

Fylde Town Hall
Fylde Town Hall

A disabled man successfully won a claim for £341,000 after a council toilet he was sat on collapsed underneath him.

The claim was just one of 28 settlements made by Fylde Council in the last financial year – which saw the authority pay out £773,290 in total.

The figure has increased by almost £720,000 when compared to the costs of £54,484 five years earlier, a rise of 1,319 per cent.

The costs have been met by the authority’s insurers.

The £341,000 claim was settled in 2013 and dated back to an incident in 2005 in which a disabled man sat on one of the public toilets in St Annes Square – only for the toilet bowl to collapse.

A “no win, no fee compensation culture” has been blamed for the increase in litigation costs by organisation Justice Not Profit, which has been set up “to stop the erosion of the English legal system by a US-style suing culture”.

The campaign is aimed at increasing support from policymakers, companies, associations, lawyers, academics and other stakeholders to call for safeguards.

A Fylde Council spokesman said: “We are the guardians of the public purse and obviously we take out insurance to protect tax-payers.

“We give full co-operation to the insurance company’s lawyers in defending against claims where it is necessary to do so.

“As with any insurance policy, it is ultimately up to the insurer whether to defend a claim or to settle.

“We will be market-testing our insurance policy later this year to ensure it remains the most cost-effective on the market.”

Out of the 28 settlements made in the year, 13 were settled at no cost.

Despite payments being met by the insurance company, there is still some cost to the council with it having to pay a £500 excess for each payout.

The spokesman confirmed that the excess figure was less than £10,000 for the past financial year.

Commercial confidentiality prevents the council revealing the amount it pays for its insurance, which goes out to tender.

Smaller payouts by the council cover minor accidents on council owned property and parks.

The average payout tends to be between £2,000 to £10,000.

A Fylde Council spokesman added: “The council is not having to pay more in premiums to our insurers.

“They recognise that the one payment to the disabled man has distorted the picture when working out the premium.

“The accident is a one-in-a-million event.”

In comparison, Blackpool Council’s litigation costs in the same period reduced by more than £300,000.

A spokesman for Blackpool Council said: “Blackpool Council spent a total of £1,676,610 in 2008 to 2009 and a total of £1,349,101 in 2013 to 2014 on all public liability/ highway claims.

“There were 412 public liability/ highway claims notified in 2008 to 2009 and 350 public liability/ highway claims notified in 2013-2014.”

John Higginson, of Justice Not Profit, said: “We have not had all the councils back yet but of the 70 councils that have got back to us this is the biggest increase that we have seen in the country so far.”