Reasonably Safe Does Not Mean Free from Risk

A landowner’s duty of care with regard to land used by members of the public was the subject of a recent case in the High Court. The limits of legal responsibility in such circumstances are established generally by the law of tort (civil injury to another) and by the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957.

The case arose when a limb fell off a beech tree in the Great Wood at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk. A group of primary school children who were on a Monster Trail at the property had sought shelter under the tree after it began to rain heavily. One of the children was killed and an action was brought alleging that the owner of the land (the National Trust) was negligent in not maintaining the wood in a safe condition.

The claimants alleged that the tree inspectors employed by the Trust had been negligent and that the Trust was ‘vicariously liable’ for their negligence.

However, in the view of the Court, to expect the Trust to have taken the degree of care necessary to prevent the accident would be unreasonable in view of the perceived risk. The claim therefore failed.

This case shows that the courts will require the person responsible to take reasonable measures to make sure their land is safe for visitors, but will not require them to make their property ‘risk free’.

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