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Safeway v Somerset County Council, High Court, 8 September 2006

8 September 2006
The issues

Pre-action disclosure – duty of care – Dorset Yacht v Home Office – whether pre-action disclosure appropriate in a claim where documents disclosed relate to a vulnerable adult and where the existence of a duty of care is in dispute.

The facts

The Applicant owned a Supermarket in Taunton. The Local Authority provided voluntary accommodation for “A”, a minor at the time. In the summer of 2001 “A”, on two occasions, committed acts of arson. In September 2001 “A” allegedly set fire to some cardboard packing stacked behind the Applicant’s supermarket causing a fire resulting in damage exceeding £11 million. The Applicant supermarket sought to recover its loss from the Local Authority alleging that the Local Authority was in breach of its duty of care to the Applicant. The Applicant’s case was that the Local Authority knew that “A” was disturbed and mischievous and ought to have realised that there was a risk that “A” would start a fire. It alleged that the County Council should have prevented “A” from leaving the accommodation and being out on the streets. The Applicant sought disclosure of files relating to “A” and her care. The Defendant argued that even if, which was not admitted, it was assumed that the Applicant’s factual allegations were correct, that firstly Pre-action disclosure was not desirable in relation to an action that was bound to fail; that the Applicant had failed to demonstrate that “A” was any more likely to injure the Applicant’s property than she was to injure anyone else’s property or premises either in the road where the supermarket was situated or in any other part of Taunton, or for that matter anywhere else and that being unable to show the necessary proximity the action was bound to fail. Moreover the Defendant argued that a duty of care ought not to be imposed in the circumstances of a case such as this since even if “A” had been the subject of a care order, such a duty to the Applicant would conflict with the Local Authority’s duties to “A” and would impose on the Local Authority a limitless liability for the acts of third parties. All this in circumstances in which the Applicant could and did insure itself against the risk or could have taken action to reduce the risk by refraining from leaving inflammable materials outside or by installing a sprinkler system.

Moreover the documents in respect of which disclosure was sought were, to some extent, confidential to “A” who had not been made a party to the Application or whose consent had not been requested.

The decision

The Local Authority’s objections were well founded. Even if they were not well founded the Applicant had failed to show that the disclosure sought was desirable in any respect laid down in the Rule.

The Application would be refused.

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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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