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Clapton v Cato Colchester, County Court, 24 August 2006

14 September 2006
The issues

Occupiers Liability Act – amputation of right middle finger – letter box in common use.

The facts

The Claimant was delivering copies of the local church newsletter in November 2000. He wished to deliver a copy of the newsletter to Mr Cato, the Defendant. As he did so, because the newsletter he was delivering was a bulky affair, and because he had been instructed not to leave a newspaper sticking out of a letter box, he pushed it through. The letter box had a flap that was spring loaded. The flap dropped down severing the tip of his right middle finger entirely. The amputated finger tip was subsequently reattached successfully. The letter box was installed in 1987. From an expert’s report it was said that it was typical of tens of thousands of letter boxes of this type up and down the country. There was no complaint made as to the workmanship involved in the installation. There was no evidence that the letter box had injured anybody else previously.

The decision

The Defendant was not necessarily absolved from liability simply because there were many letter boxes like his and that no one had previously suffered injury.

The premises consisted of an item which was dangerous and a trap for the unwary. Injury was clearly foreseeable and the Claimant did not have to show foreseeability of the precise nature or severity for the Claimant.

Judgment for the Claimant.


The decision is reported in a brief Judgment. The Judge commented that in order to allay the fears of householders otherwise concerned there was no reason why a householder should not spend 15 minutes with a file so as to make the sprung flap less ferocious and the lip more rounded. This might relieve existing householders of anxiety. On a more specifically legal point one wonders whether the decision in Beaton v Devon County Council might have led a different tribunal to a different conclusion, having regard to the complete absence of previous accidents.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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