With the above-mentioned decision, rendered on 24 October 2019, the Supreme Court, in our estimation, further suppressed the trend of "finding a responsible person" for such accidents, on the basis of which injured parties increasingly claimed against the owners or operators of such surfaces.
In this specific case, it was determined in court proceedings that the owner of the stairs had carefully and properly maintained the stairs and that he could therefore not be held liable for the injured party's fall. The Court further explained that stairs and their use are commonplace and that users are aware that extreme care is required when using them in special weather conditions. However, the increased danger in special circumstances is not sufficient for stairs and similar surfaces (sidewalks, roadways) to be considered dangerous objects.
Moreover, an important point to note is that the Supreme Court clearly stated that the dangerous object standard, as defined in Article 131(2) of the Obligations Code, can only be applied to objects or activities that result in a greater risk of damage to their surroundings or objects or activities, for which the increased risk of damage is part of their essence. It explained that the rules on the objective liability of the holder of the objects should be applied restrictively, and that individuals should only exceptionally be held liable for damage that they did not cause themselves.
These developments in case law signal a departure from the current trends where someone must always be culpable for every incident of damage or loss. Persons suffering injuries from falls on sidewalks, stairs or wet floors (e.g. by the pool) will, as a rule, have to prove that the damage caused was due to the wrongful conduct of a particular person, e.g. that the fall was due to inadequate maintenance, failure to warn of danger, etc. This departure from the "Americanisation" of tort law is welcome.
Authors: Jernej Jeraj, Attorney at Law
Tamara Miljanović, Legal assistant