Reverend Hannalore Hoffman Sued By Own Daughter After Falling Down Stairs With Grandchild In Her Arms

Reverend Sued By Own Daughter After Falling Down Stairs With Grandchild In Her Arms

A woman who fell down stairs while clutching her five-month-old granddaughter has been successfully sued by her own daughter.

The Reverend Hannalore Hoffmann was carrying Molly Boland during a family holiday in Australia in January 2006 when she tripped and fell, leaving the little girl "severely disabled".

Molly's parents Jason Boland and Susan Hoffmann sued her for failing to take reasonable care claiming her negligence left the baby girl with "traumatic" head injuries.

Yesterday the New South Wales Supreme Court heard the Reverend Hoffmann offered to take Molly downstairs about 5.30am after the baby woke and wouldn't settle.

As there was only dawn light, the Reverend Hoffmann asked her daughter to keep the light on in her room to illuminate the staircase.

She did not turn on the staircase lights so as not to disturb other sleeping family members.

She told the court she slowly and carefully descended the stairs, but stumbled and fell to the bottom, still grasping Molly.

In a judgment Justice Robert Shallcross Hulme found parents and close relatives have a legal duty to exercise reasonable care when they undertake physical actions involving their children.

"Did Reverend Hoffmann exercise such care in this case? In my view she did not," Justice Hulme said.

"I accept that she thought she was being careful. I accept that often babies are attended to in the middle of the night and in order that other members of a household are not disturbed, without lights being turned on.

"Nevertheless, when regard is had to the totality of circumstances including where Reverend Hoffmann walked and the absence of reasonable illumination, I am persuaded that she did not take that reasonable care."

The Reverend Hoffman launched a cross-claim against several parties involved in the design, construction and installation of the stairs during renovations to the holiday home, which were completed in October 2005.

It was alleged that her fall was caused by, or was contributed to, by the fact there was no handrail, anti-slip finish or sensor lights, and the staircase contained winders - wedge or triangle-shaped stairs.

But Justice Hulme dismissed the cross-claims, finding the designers and builders were not guilty of a lack of reasonable care because they chose to use winders, even though they are acknowledged to be less safe than landings between flights of stairs.

He said winders were a common feature of domestic staircases and were allowed under the building code, as were the balustrade and newel posts that were used in place of a continuous handrail.

A decision is yet to be made on what costs the family will receive.


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