21 November 2013

The Court of Appeal has overturned a judgment against a council found liable for an injury sustained when a child punched a water fountain. The judgment from West Sussex CC v Master Lewis Pierce (A child by his litigation friend Mrs Annette Pierce) is an example of the courts ensuring that the law does not part company with common sense.

The case outlines the requirements under the Occupiers' Liability Act 1957 (the 'Act') for anyone in control of a premises to ensure a visitor is kept reasonably safe. In assessing the extent of this duty, an occupier must be prepared for children to be less careful than adults.

The judgment is a reminder that this duty does not extend to safeguarding against harm under all circumstances. Here, a child was injured by the underside of a water fountain on school premises following an accident where they punched what was claimed to be a sharp edge. The Court of Appeal summarised that, 'The question which has to be addressed… is whether as a matter of objective fact, visitors to the School were reasonably safe in using the premises, including for this purpose, the water fountain, bearing in mind of course that children do not behave like adults, and are inclined to lark around'.

The Court of Appeal determined that the water fountain was not unsafe and that the edge was not particularly sharp. They emphasised that the school should not be obliged to apply padding or bevelling to all the ordinary edges, corners and surfaces that children might accidentally injure themselves on. That would be unreasonable and disproportionate.

Nonetheless, anyone in control of a premises should be careful to ensure that they comply with the obligations set out under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 and 1984 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. However, those concerned that such statutory regimes cause an excessive burden will be reassured that the Courts will recognise the practicalities of everyday life.

Ann Metherall leads Burges Salmon’s health and safety team.

Key contact

Ann Metherall

Ann Metherall Partner

  • Head of Dispute Resolution
  • Head of Health and Safety
  • Transport

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