At first instance the defendant was found partially liable for injuries sustained by the claimant when the defendant left unattended a loft hatch he was guarding causing the claimant to fall through. The defendant was found one third to blame. He appealed and the claimant cross appealed against the extent to which each party was found to be liable.
27 February 2014
Court of Appeal
Arden LJ, McCombe LJ, Vos LJ
The claimant was a skilled tradesman who had conducted work in the defendant's home previously. The claimant was tasked to install insulation in the defendant's loft. The defendant agreed to secure the loft door with a pole to stop it from opening while the work was being carried out in the roof. The defendant left his post to answer the phone and the door opened, causing the claimant to fall through and sustain injury.
The court held that the defendant owed the claimant a duty of care in common law and that he breached this duty by leaving his post. However, it was acknowledged that the claimant was an experienced tradesman, capable of carrying out a risk assessment and that his failure to act without due regard for the potential danger was a contributing factor in the accident.
The judge apportioned liability as one third against the defendant on the basis that the absence of the pole was only part of the reason for the door opening. The other factors included the weight of the claimant on it, the claimant overreaching and the latch not being properly secured at the time the defendant left his post.
Both parties appealed. The court revisited whether there was a legal basis upon which to hold the defendant liable and agreed there was because he had chosen to involve himself in the task ahead, specifically to secure the latch with the pole and by leaving his post it was entirely foreseeable that the door may open. Secondly, the court considered the extent to which liability was apportioned and found that there was no reason to depart from the decision of the court at first instance.
The defendant was an elderly man at the time of the accident and did not live to see the trial. In his evidence he expressed considerable regret in deciding to leave his post. Perhaps his biggest regret should have been helping in the first instance. Both courts concluded that had he not involved himself, there would have been no basis on which to find him liable for the injuries sustained.