If injuries result from a public authority's failure to match up to its legal duties, it is only right that compensation is paid. The High Court made that point in ruling that a failure to properly maintain a street lamp was, in part, the cause of an accident in which a 12-year-old boy lost part of a finger.
The boy and his friends were playing 'tip the can' – a game that combines elements of 'tag' and 'hide and seek' – in the street. In order to make themselves 'safe' from capture, they had to touch the street lamp. During the game, the arm of the lamp suddenly came away so that it was held in place only by wires.
Proceedings were brought on the boy's behalf against the public authority that bore responsibility for maintaining the lamp in a safe state of repair. It was argued that something with a sharp edge must have fallen from the lamp and sheared off the tip of the boy's right middle finger.
In ruling on the matter, the Court noted that engineering experts were agreed that the lamp was heavily corroded and in a precarious condition. However, they also concurred that something more than the vibrations arising from the children touching the pole would have been needed to bring down the arm.
The Court found that the boy had probably been climbing or swinging on the lamp before the accident. Its poor condition, however, reflected a lack of any reasonable system of maintenance. On the basis that the public authority was 50 per cent responsible for the accident, it was ordered to pay the boy £20,000 in damages.