Scarf – v -Council of the City of Gold Coast and Anor

McLaughlins acted for the Council of the City of Gold Coast in this significant decision in relation to liability of public authorities. In this case, the plaintiff sustained serious spinal injury when he was 21 years old, after diving head first from the guard rail on the Tallebudgera Creek bridge into the water below.

The property in the bridge/road was vested in the Department of Transport, here sued as the State of Queensland. The plaintiff alleged that the State of Queensland was negligent for failing to erect signs warning of the dangers of diving off the bridge, or prohibiting diving off the bridge and/or failing to erect a higher guard rail which prevents such activity.

Similar allegations were made against the Council, who allegedly exercised certain powers in relation to the road, and occupied a nearby recreational area. For strategic public policy reasons, the Council, based on advice from McLaughlins, defended the action at trial.

Justice White considered that the Council did not owe any duty of care to the plaintiff. The Council merely controlled an area of land adjacent to the bridge. By providing facilities on the land, it could not be said to be encouraging people to walk over the bridge and dive into the water, when it did not exercise control over the bridge.

Even though Her Honour dismissed the plaintiff’s claim, she assessed the plaintiff’s loss and damage at over 2.5 million dollars. At the time the decision was delivered, the assessed award was one of the highest ever in Queensland.

Source: (unreported, White J, Qld Supreme Court, 30 October 1998)