0370 270 6000

No such thing as an accident?

9 July 2019

Sometimes it can feel as though there is no such thing as an accident anymore…

For any owner or occupier of land or premises, the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 (section 2) imposes a duty of care to take reasonable steps to ensure that lawful visitors are reasonably safe. An occupier is defined as someone who has control of premises.

This obligation is qualified. More limited rights are provided to trespassers (under a separate Occupier Liability Act 1984). The occupier is also protected in that visitors are expected to act within the limits of the invitation. There is a well-worn statement that “when you invite someone to use the stairs you do not invite them to slide down the bannister”. Often it is what a person has chosen to do on the land which is dangerous, and not the state of the premises themselves.

What steps are ‘reasonable’ to make a visitor ‘reasonably safe’?

When considering the duty, the courts should not impose too onerous a burden on owners/occupiers. There is therefore no obligation to warn against obvious hazards. The Act requires a court to take into account ‘all the circumstances’ when considering what is reasonable. That involves an assessment of the likelihood that someone might be injured and the seriousness of any injury that might occur. This is weighed against the cost of preventative measures – the court should not expect an owner/occupier to take disproportionate and costly measures to guard against a low risk of an accident occurring.  

The court will also take into account the social utility of the activity. An example of this was seen recently in Liddle v Bristol City Council (2018) where the court found that there was a public utility in preserving the historic Prince’s Harbour Wharf, despite the fact that the area, with tram rails and an unprotected edge of the wharf, did pose some risk to cyclists. In that particular case, the risk occurred when the claimant had lost control of his bicycle, fell into the water and sadly died. Nonetheless the local authority were found to have taken reasonable steps in providing signage and were not required to install fencing.  

Not every risk has to be guarded against and a balance must be struck. This does however give some reassurance that not every accident gives rise to liability. 


The article was originally published on BusinessLive on 8 July and can be viewed here.

Focus on...

Press releases

Browne Jacobson wins Inclusion & Diversity Award at the National Insurance Awards 2022

Insurance law firm Browne Jacobson has won the Inclusion & Diversity Award at the National Insurance Awards 2022. The National Insurance Awards are judged by an independent panel of experts and celebrate excellence in the sector by highlighting the very best in general insurance provision and management.

View

Legal updates

Assessing the scope of employers liability – Chell v Tarmac

These were the opening remarks of Mr Justice Martin Spencer when handing down his Judgment in the recent case of Andrew Chell v Tarmac Cement and Lime Limited [2020] EWHC 2613, the latest in a series of appeals dealing with the scope of vicarious liability.

View

Blogs

Employers liability for practical jokes in the workplace

The extent of vicarious liability has been tested by the courts again and this time in relation to employees engaging in horseplay and practical jokes.

View

Legal updates

Non-payment of insurance premiums during the Coronavirus pandemic

The forced closure of many businesses as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Recent reports from the Office for National Statistics state that the economy was 25% smaller in April than it was in February this year.

View