NEWSFLASH! Estate agent fined £200,000 after woman fell down well during viewing

A firm of estate agents has been fined £200,000 after a woman fell down an unguarded well during a viewing.

Strakers, of Malmesbury, Wiltshire, had organised the open house viewing on April 23 last year.

At Swindon Magistrates Court, the firm pleaded guilty to a charge of breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act by failing to discharge a health and safety duty to a person other than an employee.

Because Strakers pleaded guilty, most of the argument in court revolved around the degree of blame that could be attached to Strakers.

Lucy Driver and her husband James had gone to the viewing. The agent remained inside the house while the Drivers walked in the garden.

Mrs Driver stepped off a garden path, and fell through a wooden board, 30 feet down into the well beneath, the court heard.

She was totally submerged in the water before coming to the surface. She stayed afloat with the help of a hosepipe fed down by neighbours, and it was over an hour before she was rescued by the fire service.

An HSE investigation concluded that Strakers had failed to assess the risks.

On behalf of the Health and Safety Executive, Inspector Matt Tyler said that three days before the open house, Strakers had been told by an earlier prospective buyer of the well, but had taken no action.

Employee Tim Peters had visited the house when told of the well, looked at the wooden board covering it, and assumed that the well underneath would be covered by a metal grill.

The property was a probate sale, and Strakers had no systems in place for risk assessment for houses where the previous owner had died – for example, detecting risks such as asbestos or electrical hazards.

Representing Strakers, Andrew McLaughlin, argued that the company’s culpability was low.

No estate agent in the country, he said, had a written procedure for properties in probate sales.

Strakers had not been in breach of any guidelines, and nor were there any HSE recommendations where property was offered for sale.

He said Strakers had since engaged a health and safety consultant and put new systems in place.

However, Judge Cooper ruled that Strakers’ culpability was high.

The board over the well had not been raised, and the well presented a risk of serious injury of death.

The Judge said he did not wish to damage the ability of Strakers to pay the civil claim brought by Mrs Driver – who said she had suffered post traumatic stress after the event – and nor did he wish to put the firm out of business, but he said the fine must be sufficient to have a real impact.

The Judge imposed a fine of £200,000, reduced from £300,000 because of the guilty plea, and ordered Strakers to pay HSE costs of £2,474.

Strakers have been given two years to pay the fine in monthly instalments.

Antony Bulley, Strakers managing director, said directors and staff had been “deeply distressed” by the incident.

He said: “We wish to make it known that Strakers have carried out extensive internal investigations and have fully cooperated with the Health and Safety Executive throughout culminating in a plea of guilty at the earliest opportunity presented.”

A full report of the case is here: http://www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk/news/15115841.Estate_agent_fined___200_000_after_house_hunter_fell_down_30ft_well/

 

 

 

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29 Comments

  1. Beano

    Surely this would be covered by their public liability insurance? If not why do we pay for these things, or where they not covered?…

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    1. HornyToad63

      Insurers don’t typically cover regulatory fines or penalties such as this – the point of a fine like this is (partially) to act as a punishment to a business, so it would be counter-productive for insurers to cover fines, as it takes away from the need of a business to comply with such laws.

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      1. Philosopher2467

        Whats next then? Personal Injury claim?

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  2. gardenflat

    Over £8k per month for the next 24 months, that’s allot of money. If they knew the risk why oh why wouldn’t you just put a simple barrier up around it?

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  3. Trevor Mealham

    With a clumsy error causing havoc to the agents cash flow and all the other challenges such as low fees, Poor sales progression often from others in a chain. How long till the agency owner or partner has had enough.

    It would be interesting to know if the agency had had a disclaimer stating people view at their own risk as norm on many agents details. Cause if so, this will prove in court such disclaimers carry no weight or value.

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  4. ianc

    You cannot contract out of liability for personal injury under any circumstances. A disclaimer for damage to personal property might stand up in court, but not for injury. Any claim for such injury would be met by your PL cover, however a fine won’t be.

    Had they not had any knowledge of the well, I cannot see how they would have been liable to a fine or injury claim.

    It is such a shame that they didn’t put a simple barrier around the well, but the hindsight is always 20:20.

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  5. CountryLass

    I had a child who slipped down the stairs on a viewing when I first started. When I got back to the office my area manager was there and insisted I write up a full statement and speak to a member of the legal team to get everything recorded in case the mother sued.

     

    And then years later, I had a repossession that needed full renovation and had holes in the floor etc. Before I let anyone in the house I warned them of the condition, told them not to allow children in to the property and made them sign a disclaimer that I had warned them of the condition and hazards and if they got hurt it was not my fault. How legal it would have been I have no idea as I wrote the disclaimer myself, but I figured that it would at least give me some defence if anything happened!

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  6. KingTony

    Having seen the photo, what was the lady doing standing on what could have looked like a pile of rubble at the edge of the garden?

    “oooh, whats that brightly lit thing making smoke (Bon Fire), may be I should lie-down on it”

     

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    1. gardenflat

      Quite right, I’ve just searched and found it. My only guess is that she was looking over the garden fence?

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      1. stang69

        It’s irrelevant what she was doing…Strakers knew about the well and did nothing about it…deserve every penny they have to pay out for their gross stupidity and complete lack of common sense.

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        1. smile please

          Bit harsh?

          We all make mistakes, 200k sounds a lot of money for a tumble. maybe 5- 10k

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          1. stang69

            maybe a wake up call that we can’t ignore HSE as much as we may want to – we deal with the public and we have a responsibility to ensure that they are safe in the environments we work in…time for estate agents to grow up and join the real world, as much as the real world is full of stupid red tape it is the one we have to work in.

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            1. HornyToad63

              “for a tumble…”

               

              And property agents wonder why they get such a bad reputation…

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  7. AgentV

    What if someone does fall down the stairs on a viewing? We have some old terraced properties with steeper stairs. Does anyone know or has anyone had any problems with this?

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    1. smile please

      Think before every viewing i will now get the staff to viewers to sign a waiver for injury.

      So many want to pull at things, jump on things, look in lofts, cellars, Some even play with electrics.

      And before somebody says it yes you do keep an eye on viewers, you do discourage it but the public always know best and want to do what they want.

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  8. Ding Dong

    even if they did not about the “well” they would have be liable for a penalty because they did not conduct any form of risk assessment.

    how many agents in reality conduct a risk assessment for a property before marketing for let or sale? come on be honest

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    1. smile please

      We do open houses every single weekend (multiple) and we have never done a risk assessment.

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      1. Philosopher2467

        Who has?

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    2. Philosopher2467

      35 years with corporate and last 15 independent …….never!

      at least not until now that is!

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  9. wardy

    ”The agent remained inside the house while the Drivers walked in the garden.”

    there’s your problem.

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  10. Philosopher2467

    There but for the grace of god go us all. No one throws themselves into a well intentionally surely therefore this is a truly horrendous accident and experience for all concerned.

    a valuable lesson to us all in these litigious times. I hope genuinely hope Strakers can deal with the matter and that there is no ongoing adverse effect on the partners and staff.

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  11. 40yearvetran08

    The world has gone bonkers,  what do online agents do about HSE. They do not turn up for viewings, probably not even seen the property, does that absolve them from any responsibility?

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    1. smile please

      Wonder if or what the payout would have been if the vendor did the viewing and the fall happened?

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  12. Yorkshire Agent

    It is scary, should every valuer now be accompanied on the first inspection on a deceased estate to make sure he/she does not dissappear?  Perhaps a crowd fund should be considered to help this agent out of such a horrible situation that could of happened to any us.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

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    1. debbiec49

      Yes  I would be happy to donate to a crowd funding page  This could happen to any of us

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  13. Anissa67

    Me too – there but for the grace……

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  14. Anissa67

    Hopefully The Eye will let us know if a page gets set up – I show a lot of Victorian houses – steep stairs and unusual loft set ups – last year whilst I was unhooking a loft ladder with a pole it slipped off and banged open with enough force to split the surrounding wood.  I had asked the viewer to stand back but a foot further forward….Got the wood fixed and never moved it again.

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  15. sailor65

    They admitted their fault which is I think what victim was just wanted.

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  16. hoodleyinwoodley

    Surely the key question is…did she buy the house?

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