Family of grandfather killed after falling off stairs sue Wetherspoons

Family of grandfather, 74, who died after drunkenly falling 8FT over a stair rail and landing on his head sue JD Wetherspoon for £150,000 blaming its ‘unusual design’ for causing his death

  • Brian McAlister had to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life after the fall
  • Lawyers for his family said  the ‘unsafe’ stairs had caused his death 
  • Wetherspoons lawyers denied the claim, blaming a ‘freak set of circumstances’ 
  • The Suffolk grandfather died two years after falling at Queen of Iceni in Norwich
  • The 74 year-old grandfather died on New Year’s Day 2018 after he fell eight feet from the stairs and landed on his head at Norwich’s Queen of Iceni pub in April 2016.

    Brian McAlister, from Brandon in Suffolk, was walking to the toilet when he lost his balance and suffered ‘catastrophic’ injuries.

    He was left confined to a wheelchair, and later died from the impact of paralysis.

    His family, led by daughter Pamela Suttle, are now suing JD Wetherspoon Ltd for more than £150,000, blaming the ‘unusual design’ of the pub’s staircase for his death.

    In a High Court action, Ms Suttle’s lawyers claim the ‘unsafe’ layout of the staircase made it more likely that someone who fell on the steps would fall over the bannister.

    Lawyers representing Brian McAlister's family claimed the 'unusual' stairs at The Queen of Iceni pub in Norwich had caused his death

    Lawyers representing Brian McAlister’s family claimed the ‘unusual’ stairs at The Queen of Iceni pub in Norwich had caused his death

    Brian McAlister, 74, had been drinking in the Norwich pub in April 2016 when he fell, sustaining horrific injuries which led to his death less than two years later

    Brian McAlister, 74, had been drinking in the Norwich pub in April 2016 when he fell, sustaining horrific injuries which led to his death less than two years later

    The pub chain denies any responsibility and says Mr McAlister was himself to blame for what happened, having drunk so much he needed alcohol detoxification medication afterwards.

    Writing in documents filed at the London court, the family’s barrister Elizabeth-Anne Gumbel QC said Mr McAlister had been on his way to the toilet on the upper floor when he fell.

    ‘As can be seen from the available CCTV footage, he slid down the stair rail and fell over the balustrade at a distance of 2.6 metres [8.5ft], falling on his head and suffering catastrophic injuries,’ she says.

    ‘His fall and consequent injuries leading ultimately to his death were caused by the unsafe design of the staircase that was unsafe for a public house, where lawful visitors had to ascend the stairs to access the lavatory and where it was foreseeable that lawful visitors would also be drinking.’

    The staircase had later been criticised in an environmental health report in October 2016, she says, pointing out that its design provided a risk of a serious fall to pubgoers.

    ‘A person who falls on the stairs at the Queen of Iceni is more likely to hit the handrail because it cuts across the direction in which a person falling is likely to travel,’ said the report.

    Angela Suttle, Brian's daughter, has brought the case against the Wetherspoons pub chain and hope to win £150,000 in compensation for his death

    Angela Suttle, Brian’s daughter, has brought the case against the Wetherspoons pub chain and hope to win £150,000 in compensation for his death 

    Grandfather Brian had to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life following the accident, before dying on New Year's day in 2018

    Grandfather Brian had to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life following the accident, before dying on New Year’s day in 2018

    ‘The staircase was of such an unusual design that customers attending for the first time would not appreciate the increased risk when climbing the stairs.’

    Having fallen over the side, Mr McAlister landed on his head, sustaining a skull fracture and devastating spinal injuries, which required gruelling surgery, but which led to his death in 2018.

    But for Wetherspoon, barrister Jonathan Payne claims that the fall was an ‘unforeseeable’ tragedy caused by a ‘freak set of circumstances’ which were unconnected to the staircase design.

    On top of that, he says Mr McAlister was drunk at the time, claiming he ‘used the staircase at a time when he was intoxicated to the extent that he was unsteady on his feet’.

    ‘The deceased was intoxicated to the extent that he required alcohol detoxification medication,’ he added.

    He said the stairs would have been trodden by ‘many millions of customers’ in the 15 years since the pub started trading, adding: ‘Save for one customer who chose to jump voluntarily from the staircase, there have been no reported similar accidents.’

    Mr McAlister may have toppled backwards after suddenly fainting, he added, and then spun round as he fell, sending him onto and then over the rail.

    ‘It is denied that the staircase had an unsafe design either as claimed or at all. The staircase complied with all relevant building regulations,’ he says.

    ‘It appears from the evidence collated after this unfortunate incident that at the material time the deceased was engaged on a stag party and was intoxicated.

    ‘When the deceased ascended the staircase he appeared to be unstable and tripped up the first landing, albeit he regained his footing.

    ‘This was not a normal or foreseeable use of the staircase. It represented a freak set of circumstances.’

    The case reached court last week for a brief hearing ahead of a full trial of the claim at a later date.