footpath

A Canberra woman has successfully sued the territory's housing authorities, winning about $100,000 after tripping in the yard of her home in McKellar.

Monica Morales won her negligence claim yesterday in a case her lawyer says highlights the need for Housing ACT to maintain their properties both inside and out.

Mrs Morales has lived in the public housing property in the Belconnen suburb since 1990.

But the Chilean-born 54-year-old needed surgery after tripping on a path between her door and her driveway in August 2005.

Mrs Morales hurt her shoulder badly, aggravated older injuries and also struck her head on a parked car.

It transpired the roots of a large deciduous tree had pushed up one of two concrete pavers, leaving a height gap of about five centimetres between the two.

The tenant subsequently sued The ACT Commissioner for Social Housing, taking the case to the ACT Supreme Court.

Master David Harper yesterday ruled the commissioner had an obligation to conduct better checks of the exterior, and awarded Mrs Morales $131,295.

But he reduced the payout to $98,471 through contributory negligence, reasoning Mrs Morales had known the concrete posed a danger.

Solicitor Robert Coen, from firm Maurice Blackburn, said the verdict put housing authorities on notice about the need to properly check for safety hazards, both inside and outside.

''Their checklist may need to be more comprehensive so far as the outdoor premises [are concerned],'' he said.

The lawyer said his client, who has returned home to Chile temporarily and wasn't in court for the decision, welcomed the verdict.

''It's been a very long time, a very long time, and she's glad that it's been recognised that there was a problem there that needed to be rectified,'' Mr Coen said.

Housing ACT conducted annual inspections at the property with a checklist which included the outside of the building.

But the routine checks failed to detect the raised paver between at least 2000, when the tree was removed, and 2005 when the fall occurred.

''The issue was, should they have identified that on previous occasions,'' Mr Coen said.

Mrs Morales complained to Housing ACT the day after the fall, and the problem was fixed within weeks.

During the hearing the defendant denied liability and said the plaintiff contributed to the fall because she knew about the danger and failed to tell them.

But Mrs Morales said she raised the problems with her landlord before the accident.

The woman speaks very little English, however, and Master Harper said it was possible that language barriers meant authorities might not have understood the warning.