By CHRISTIAN GYSIN
18th July 2007
It was one yellow petal lying forlornly on the ground next to Bella Patel's flower shop.
But it caused a whole bunch of problems.
A commuter who says he slipped on the floral fragment and damaged his back is claiming £1.5million in damages.
'Life turned upside down': Mr Piccolo with wife Diana
A judge has ruled in favour of bank worker Brian Piccolo, who arrived at the High Court using a walking stick, saying flower shop staff should have kept the concourse clean at Marylebone Station in Central London.
Unless both sides can agree a settlement, the amount of compensation will be assessed at a further court hearing.
Mrs Patel, 45, said the incident four years ago had already cost her £40,000 in costs and could end up ruining her.
Bella Patel, owner of Chiltern Flowers says the claim could ruin her business
She insisted there was no evidence that a petal from her shop, Chiltern Flowers, was to blame.
But 50-year-old Mr Piccolo, who has been on long-term sick leave, said his life had been turned upside down.
'I have been told my condition will probably deteriorate and I may end up in a wheelchair.'
The court heard how the fall happened on March 10, 2003, as Mr Piccolo was on his way to work at the nearby offices of BNP Paribas.
A security guard told Judge John Altman that he had seen Mr Piccolo slip on a 'yellow petal' and went on to describe it as a 'killer'.
The guard, a former RAF serviceman identified only as Mr McCready, has since left Marylebone and now works as a residential care worker.
A riot of colour: The flower shop at Marylebone train station in London run by Bella Patel
The judge ruled that staff at Chiltern Flowers should have cleaned up outside the shop, and owed Mr Piccolo a 'duty of care'.
'In the course of the shop's activities petals fell on to the concourse near the shop and I find that the presence of petals on this concourse floor presented a foreseeable hazard of slipping.'
He added that a 'clean as you go' system used by Chiltern Flowers was not effective and contained an 'unreasonable element of chance' as to whether stray petals were cleaned up.
'I find that no one had overall responsibility on a day-to-day basis for supervision and checking that the concourse was clear,' continued Judge Altman. 'It was not a safe system of work.'
The judge found that the Chiltern Railway Company - responsible for running the station - had shown 'mounting frustration' at the flower shop's failure to keep the area free of hazards.
The court heard how e-mails were sent both before and after the accident pointing out that there was debris which could pose a potential hazard to commuters.
'I find that the type of accident that was sustained by Mr Piccolo is not one that in the ordinary course of events does occur, and that the defendant has failed to establish that they had in place an effective and reasonable system for dealing with spillages,' added the judge.
He cleared the Chiltern Railway Company - which had been a second defendant in the claim - of wrongdoing and said Mr Piccolo had not contributed to his fall in any way.
Mrs Patel, who has run Chiltern Flowers for five years, said her insurance would not be able to meet the full amount of Mr Piccolo's claim.
'I have been told that our insurance runs to something like £800,000 so if the judge awards Mr Piccolo the full amount then we will be bankrupt and I will be financially ruined. I cannot believe this has been going on for so long and that the judge has now ruled against me.
'At the time this happened there was a leak in the station roof and water on the concourse could have contributed if he indeed did fall over - but we have maintained it was not a petal from our shop that was to blame.
'There has never been an incident like this since the shop opened more than 25 years ago.'
At his £280,000 detached home in Witham, Essex, Mr Piccolo said he had worked for BNP Paribas since the age of 16.
The father of two boys - Alexander, 13, and Dominic, ten - said he was hospitalised for six months after the fall.
His 44-year- old wife Diana has helped to look after him since the accident.After suffering some initial paralysis he is still struggling to walk properly and often uses a stick to help him get around.
'I was walking along minding my own business and through no fault of my own I have ended up like this,' he said.
'My life has been turned upside down. I can't do the things that I want to do with my boys or around the house.'