OCCUPIERS’ LIABILITY

CHAPTER 10
10.1 INTRODUCTION
It is thought that around 27% of reported accidents occur in the home (Pearson Report,
Report of the Royal Commission and Civil Liability Compensation for Personal Injury, Cmnd
7054, 1978, vol 2, para 16), yet, although reliable statistics on the matter are difficult to
obtain, it appears that few claims arise out of domestic accidents (see Harris, Compensa-
tion and Support for Illness and Injury, 1989, Oxford: Woolfson Centre for Socio-Legal
Studies). A number of reasons have been suggested for this. It could well be that people
are unaware of the possibility of making a claim in such circumstances, or that they are
reluctant to sue relatives and friends (most claims for accidents on property are brought
against companies by members of the public).
Another possible reason for the relatively small number of claims is that while prop-
erty owners are required by mortgage lenders to insure their buildings under the terms
of most mortgages, occupiers’ liability is covered by house contents insurance which is
not compulsory, and many house owners choose to skimp on this. A lawyer is unlikely to
advise a client to sue the average uninsured householder.
Occupiers’ liability is a field in which until relatively recently there was only a limited
duty owed in law to others, but which has been extensively overhauled by statute
and common law developments to include the imposition of liability akin to that in
negligence in numerous situations (Atiyah’s Accidents, Compensation and the Law, Cane
(ed), 1993, London: Butterworths).
In modern law, the liability of occupiers for people who are injured on their premises
is governed by the Occupiers’ Liability Acts of 1957 and 1984. Before 1957, the common
law applied, and liability depended upon the type of entrant; for example, the highest
standard of care was that owed to people entering the land as contractors. The next
highest standard of care was owed to people who had some mutual business interests
with the occupier and who were called invitees, and so on. Trespassers were owed
only a minimal duty and in most cases no positive duty of care at all. The position at
common law was complex and confusing and for that reason the law was simplified by
the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957.
10.1.1 Application of common law
Before embarking upon a detailed study of the statutes themselves, it is still necessary to
consider where any of the previous common law still applies. For example:
• It is important to establish whether a person who was once a trespasser has become a
licensee or lawful visitor and is therefore owed a duty of care under the Occupiers’
Liability Act 1957. There is a considerable amount of common law on this subject and
this will be discussed in detail later, but the Act itself is silent on the matter.
• ‘Premises’ are not defined by statute and the common law definitions still apply.

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