Widow sues hotel after husband fell to death after opening window

Deborah James is suing the owners of the White Lion Hotel over the death of her husband Christopher (Picture: Champion News/Google Maps)

The widow of an RAF officer who plunged to his death from a hotel window while ‘intoxicated’ is fighting the owners over a £400,000 compensation payout.

Sergeant Christopher James, 41, fell 20ft from the sill of his second-floor room at the Grade-II listed White Lion Hotel in Upton-upon-Severn, Worcestershire, after attending a friend’s wedding in July 2015.

He lost his balance after opening the sash window to get some air and smoke a cigarette in the early hours of a sweltering night and suffered fatal head injuries when he hit the pavement, the Court of Appeal heard.

His widow, Deborah, 43, who is a teacher from Cornwall, won the first leg of her legal battle when a judge in Bristol ruled she was entitled to a payout following a hearing back in January.

Judge Barry Cotter QC found Mr James was ‘mildly to moderately intoxicated’ when he returned to his hotel late that night, but ruled that ‘he was not drunk’.

But the White Lion Hotel is now appealing that judgement, arguing that Mrs James’ claim should be thrown out because her husband ‘chose to sit on the window sill and accept the risk of falling out’.

Christopher James pictured with his wife Deborah (Picture: Champion News)

Mrs James is claiming £400,000 in compensation.

In court documents, her barrister, Robert Weir QC, outlined the likely events leading up to the fall, which he said resulted from a combination of a low window sill, the fact that the window could be opened fully, and the sash mechanism being defective.

He said: ‘Mr James had opened a sash window in his second floor bedroom at night as he was struggling with the heat and was considering smoking a cigarette.

‘The window sill was much lower than normal height.

‘The lower window could be opened to its full height and the sash mechanism of the lower window was defective such that he ended up sitting on the window sill, adopting a slightly awkward position to hold the sash up, and leant out to cool down.

‘At some point he lost his balance and fell from the window to his death on the pavement below.’

Mrs James paid tribute to her husband, who she said was a ‘very loving father’ (Picture: Champion News)

Mr Weir added: ‘He was certainly careless but, in sitting on the window sill, he was not freely and voluntarily undertaking an activity with inherent risk, let alone with an obvious risk of falling.’

Judge Cotter held the hotel owners liable for the fall, while finding that Mr James was himself 60% at fault ‘for choosing to sit on the window sill’.

He found that had the hotel not breached its duty of care Mr James ‘would not have been in a position to open the sash window fully and so would not have accidentally fallen out’.

After the tragedy, the hotel pleaded guilty to an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act for failing to identify or eliminate the risks of falling.

After the tragedy, the hotel pleaded guilty to an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act (Picture: Google Maps)

But Ronald Walker QC, for the hotel, told senior judges that Mr James had ‘chosen to run an obvious risk’.

Even if the window was unsafe, Mrs James could not get away from her husband’s risky conduct, he insisted.

Lady Justice King, Lady Justice Elisabeth Laing and Lady Justice Nicola Davies reserved their ruling until a later date.

After his death Deborah paid tribute to the veteran airman, who she remembered as a ‘very loving father’ who was always smiling.

She said: ‘He was full of life, very fun, jovial, certainly an extrovert.’

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