Littlejohn v Julia Creek Town and Country Club Inc [2011] QDC 116

Littlejohn v Julia Creek Town and Country Club Inc [2010] QCA 361

Cullinane J at first instance found for the plaintiff ($160,705.68) who fell in circumstances where there was a difference of 25mm between the tiles and the carpet flooring of a licensed premise. The plaintiff contended initially in the Notice of Claim that the lights were switched off, but later in her pleadings claimed the glare of the sunlight on the flooring and/or lighting impaired her vision.

The Court of Appeal found the reasons for decision did not adequately address why the second version was preferred and returned the matter for rehearing to the District Court pursuant to Section 68(3) of the Supreme Court of Queensland Act 1991. Cost of the appeal were payable under an Indemnity Certificate pursuant to s 15 of the Appeal Costs Fund Act 1973. The amount of gratuitous care was agitated on appeal, but not interfered with. Chesterman JA (with whom Muir JA and Philippedes J concurred) helpfully recited the authorities in relation the requirement for reasons for decision:

[30] The failure of a court from which an appeal lies to give sufficient reasons for its decision constitutes an error of law. The authorities to that effect are both numerous and well known. Muir JA with whom Holmes JA and Daubney J agreed said in Drew v Makita (Australia) Pty Ltd [2009] QCA 66; [2009] 2 Qd R 219 at 237:

“[58] The rationale for the requirement that courts give reasons for their decisions provides some guidance as to the extent of the reasons required. The requirement has been explained, variously, as necessary: to avoid leaving the losing party with ‘a justifiable sense of grievance’ through not knowing or understanding why that party lost; to facilitate or not frustrate a right of appeal; as an attribute or incident of the judicial process; to afford natural justice or procedural fairness; to provide ‘the foundation for the acceptability of the decision by the parties and the public’ and to further ‘judicial accountability’.” (footnotes omitted)

[31] His Honour pointed out, citing Soulemezis v Dudley (Holdings) Pty Ltd (1987) 10 NSWLR 247 at 280, that reasons need not be lengthy or elaborate but “… the essential ground or grounds upon which the decision rests should be articulated.”

[32] His Honour referred also to Beale v Government Insurance Office of NSW (1997) 48 NSWLR 430 in which Meagher JA set out:

“… three fundamental elements of a statement of reasons … . First, a judge should refer to relevant evidence. There is no need to refer to the … evidence in detail … . However, where certain evidence is important or critical to the proper determination of the matter and it is not referred to by the trial judge, an appellate court may infer that the trial judge overlooked the evidence or failed to give consideration to it … .”

[33] In Camden v McKenzie [2007] QCA 136; [2008] 1 Qd R 39 Keane JA (with whom McMurdo and Douglas JJ agreed) said at [30]-[31]:

“The appellants contend, with the support of the decisions of the Court of Appeal of New South Wales in Beale v Government Insurance Office of New South Wales and the Victorian Court of Appeal in Fletcher Construction Australia Ltd v Lions MacFarlane & Marshall Pty Ltd (No 2), that adequate reasons for judgment will refer to the evidence which was important to the determination of the matter, and will set out material findings of fact, given the judge’s reasons for his … findings of fact, and stating the basis on which the judge has come to prefer one body of evidence over a competing body of evidence.

As a general rule, observance of these requirements is necessary to demonstrate that litigation has been determined fairly and rationally. Adherence to these requirements ensures that rights of appeal are not rendered meaningless, and that a party affected by a decision adverse to his or her interests is not left with the justified sense of grievance that the case has not been properly considered. In short, these standards promote the conscientious public discharge of the responsibilities of a judge to litigants, as well as to the community, which has a vital interest in the integrity of the judicial process.” (footnotes omitted)

Baulch S.C DCJ on the rehearing found for the plaintiff on the contested basis:

[31] In all of the circumstances I conclude that the plaintiff was moving at a modest pace, across the area in question when she was distracted by the bright light reflected from the dance floor. At that point she would have been at a position where the dance floor was, at least in part, between her and the window. The light that she observed was from the reflection of the window, not because sun was shining on the dance floor. I accept that she raised her hand to shield her eyes. While it was suggested that such a reaction would not be expected, I accept her evidence that she did so. I also accept the evidence of the experts that reaction to glare is a very subjective thing. Sadly at that moment she put her foot on the area of flooring where the height change occurred and that caused her to stumble and fall. It is not possible on the evidence to determine the nature and extent of the glare but only to say that it was, subjectively, from the plaintiff’s point of view, sufficient to cause her to attempt to shield her eyes from it. I note that the glare was also described by Mr O’Sullivan as significant. Mr Forbes’ contrary view was formed after an inspection of the club when significant alterations had been undertaken which alterations in my view left him less able to assess the situation than Mr O’Sullivan had been two years earlier.

Brisbane Barrister – David Cormack

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