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Tort - Occupiers Liability I

Updated on August 30, 2017

Occupiers liability refers to the duty that is owed by those who occupy property through ownership or lease to visitors to their land or property. Despite the fact that owners legally own the land they must take adequate, relevant and appropriate steps to ensure that any visitor to their property, whether invited or otherwise, is not subjected to the risk of accident, injury or illness.

In Jolley v Sutton LBC (1998), for example, the council had left an abandoned boat on a piece of land that it owned with a notice stuck to it that warned others not to meddle with the boat and if the boat was unclaimed within 7 days it would be removed. The boat however was left abandoned for 2 years and in that time it had further deteriorated and posed a hazard to trespassers or anyone else who clambered on it or fiddled with it.

The boat was discovered by two 14-year-old boys who as boys normally do got carried away with it and tried to do it up. While they were trying to fix the boat, there was an accident and one of the boys suffered serious spinal injuries and was paralyzed as a result. The plaintiff sued under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 and was successful.

It was reasonably foreseeable that if the boat was not disposed of in the appropriate manner, someone sometime was likely to stumble across it and there was a real likelihood that the person(s) could sustain some form of harm or injury as a result.

In Ward v Tesco Stores Ltd (1976) the plaintiff was walking down the aisle of a Tesco store shopping when she stepped on some spilled yogurt and subsequently slipped and fell. The plaintiff was injured as a result of the accident and brought an action against Tesco for negligence. The court held that Tesco owed its customers a duty of care and it had breached that duty by failing to ensure that the floors were kept clean at all times. The plaintiff’s injury was the result of stepping on the spilled yogurt or the plaintiff would not have been injured but for the spilled yogurt and thus the defendant was held to be liable.

The plaintiff despite having brought an action in negligence could have also brought a successful action under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957. The act was enacted primarily “to regulate the duty which an occupier of premises owes to his visitors in respect of dangers due to the state of the premises or to things done or omitted to be done on them.” (Section I(I)).

S2 of the act elaborates on the natures of the duty that is owed. S2(1) An occupier of premises owes the same duty, the “common duty of care”, to all his visitors, except in so far as he is free to and does extend, restrict, modify or exclude his duty to any visitor or visitors by agreement or otherwise.

The Occupiers Liability Act 1984 further reinforces the principles that were laid down in the 1957 act. S1(1) The rules enacted by this section shall have effect, in place of the rules of the common law, to determine -

(a) whether any duty is owed by a person as occupier of premises to persons other than his visitors in respect of any risk of their suffering injury on the premises by reason of any danger due to the state of the premises or to things done or omitted to be done on them; and

(b) if so, what that duty is.

In Gwilliam v West Hertfordshire Hospital NHS Trust (2002) the plaintiff, a 63 year old lady, was injured while she attended a summer fair hosted by the defendants. During the fair the plaintiff had participated in some of the activities and as a result of the defective equipment that was provided, she sustained injuries. The plaintiff sued. Under normal circumstances the matter would be covered by public liability insurance but in this instance the insurance policy of the contractors who provided the equipment had expired 4 days prior to the fair, and the contractors had failed to renew it.

The court held that under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 there was a duty that was imposed on organizers to ensure that the contractors they employed had suitable insurance coverage and the court found that the defendants had been negligent by failing to ensure that their contractors had suitable insurance coverage. The plaintiff was successful.

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