A GRANDMOTHER died after she tripped over the remains of an old street sign just days after a safety inspection failed to spot it.
Audrey Foster, 79, died in Sunderland Royal Hospital five days after breaking her hip in the fall close to her home in Bethune Avenue, Seaham.
An inquest at Sunderland Civic Centre heard the footpath in The Avenue, Seaham, was subject to six-monthly inspections and had been checked just eight days before Mrs Foster’s accident in June.
Brian Buckley, Durham County Council’s strategic highways manager, told the hearing it was unclear how long the stump had been there but that type of post had not been used for ‘many, many years’.
It was not possible to say definitively why the stump had not been spotted during previous inspections, but he believed it may only recently have become a hazard.
He also said that the path having been swept on the day of the accident may have been significant.
“I can only assume that, many years ago, it has been cut off at its base and, over time, the footpath has degraded somewhat and it has been exposed on or around the date of the accident,” he told the hearing.
“I can’t say this for certain, but it seems the mechanical sweeper brush has swept up some of the debris around the stump and exposed the stump on the morning of the accident.”
Asked by deputy coroner Karen Welsh whether it was possible the inspector had simply missed the hazard, rather than it being hidden, he replied: “Yes, it is one or the other. I don’t know which it is.
“I showed him the photographs – he did say that if he had seen a stump of that nature, then he would have reported it.”
The hearing was told Mrs Foster had suffered organ failure as a result of pneumonia which developed after she inhaled her own vomit in Sunderland Royal Hospital.
Nursing consultant Sandra Collinson told the hearing there had been no sign of complications after Mrs Foster was sick.
“You often don’t see any evidence – it is just something that develops over a period of time and I think that is what has happened here.”
Mrs Foster’s son Stanley raised concerns that his mother had not been given drugs to stop her from vomiting, despite telling nurses she felt sick.
But deputy coroner Karen Welsh cleared the hospital of any responsibility for Mrs Foster’s death, which she said had been a direct result of the fall.
“Mr Buckley has tried to assist me with various theories as to why the stump was not noticed. The fact is, it was not noticed only eight days before the accident occurred,” she said.
“I have no criticism of Mrs Foster’s treatment at the hospital. If Mrs Foster had not fallen, she would not have died when she did. My finding, therefore, must be accident.”
Speaking after the hearing, Mr Buckley said: “The council was saddened to hear about Mrs Foster’s death and has offered sincere condolences directly to the family.
“We investigated how the accident came to happen and reported our findings to the coroner.
“We would like to urge everyone with any knowledge of a defect on a path or road to report it to the council as quickly as possible so we can assess what action is needed to deal with it.”