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Tort - Occupiers liability cases IV

Updated on July 4, 2017

In Robert Addie v Dumbreck (1929) the defendants owned a piece of land adjacent to their colliery. The land was fenced off but there were holes in the fences that people could use to cut across to reach a railway station. The defendants had warned them off on several occasions but no one paid any attention to their warnings. One of the boys who entered the property climbed on to one of the machines and fell off and was injured as a result. The matter was brought before a court and it was held that there was no duty that was owed because the boy was a trespasser and did not have any type of license, implied or otherwise, to be on the property see also Edward v Railway Executive (1952).

In Phipps v Rochester Corporation (1955) a young 7-year-old girl and her brother aged 5 were walking together and entered the defendants land. The young boy subsequently fell into a trench and was injured as a result. The parents sued. The court held that the defendants were not occupiers in this instance, despite having or retaining sufficient control of the property or the land, because the accident was more the fault of the parents than the defendants. Children that age should not be left alone or be allowed out on their own.

In Roles v Nathan (1963) two brothers who were professional chimney sweeps were employed to clean the flues in a building. An engineer was present and monitored the carbon monoxide levels at all times.

While they were cleaning the carbon monoxide levels increased and the engineer ordered them to stop cleaning. The brothers refused and the engineer repeated the order several times before he had them forcibly removed from the building telling them not to return until the next day.

The brothers returned later in the evening and were found dead in the morning. Their widows sued. The court held that the occupiers were not liable. The brothers were warned or cautioned on several occasions and they failed to heed the warnings see also ICI Ltd v Shatwell (1965).

In Robson v Hallet (1967) a policeman had made his way into a property. Like the postman and the meterman, policemen have implied permission to enter a property especially if they suspect that a crime is taking place or is about to take place. The policeman was subsequently told to leave and before he could do so he was forceful evicted. An action was brought against the occupiers. The court held that the policeman or any other member of the public who enters a property in furtherance of a public duty had an implied license to do so. That license may be revoked by the occupier but in such instances the licensee (the holder of the license) should be given reasonable time to leave the property. The plaintiffs were successful.

In Harris v Birkenhead (1976) the plaintiff, a young girl aged 4 and her friend were playing in a park when they decided to go for a walk and eventually made their way into an abandoned house. The girls entered the house and walked up the stairs and soon found themselves in front of a window. While they were fiddling about, as children often do, the young girl fell out of the window and as a result of the accident suffered serious injuries.

At the time of the accident the house was in the control of the council which had compulsorily purchased the property and the previous tenant had vacated the property. The parents sued. The question before the courts was, given the circumstances, who was the occupier of the premises? It was decided that the party that had control of the house, premises or the property was the occupier. The next question was whether the council had been negligent or if it had taken the necessary steps to prevent the accident from occurring?

The court held that the council owed children a duty of care especially with regards to children who trespass on their property and therefore the council were held to be liable or accountable.

Would the situation have been different if the house was left secure and vandals had broken into the property or the house had been secured on numerous occasions but vandals kept breaking into the property and as a result the condition of the house deteriorated? see Smith v Littlewoods Organization Ltd (1987).

© 2017 Kathiresan Ramachanderam and Dyarne Jessica Ward

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