Contractors’ duty of care

21 December 2016

Two cases that may be of interest to contractors have recently been reported, namely Dean and Chapter of Rochester Cathedral v Debell (Nov 2016) and Edwards v London Borough of Sutton [Oct 2016]. They are of interest as they address an occupiers’ obligation to protect the safety of visitors to their property.

In the former the claimant tripped within cathedral land. The trip was due to a damaged bollard that had lifted the base, leaving a small piece of concrete protruded from the ground.
The Court of Appeal ruled the minor nature of the hazard was such that it was unreasonable to expect the occupier to ensure the land was kept in an immaculate condition at all times. The Court of Appeal said that the obligation on the occupier is “to make the land reasonably safe for visitors, not to guarantee their safety. In order to impose liability, there must be something over and above the risk of injury from the minor blemishes and defects which are habitually found on any road or pathway. The law has to strike a balance between the nature and extent of the risk on the one hand and the cost of eliminating it on the other.” 

In Edwards v London Borough of Sutton, the claimant was crossing a low walled ornamental footbridge over a stream in a park. The claimant tripped and sustained serious injury.
The Court of Appeal ruled the hazard should have been contemplated by the claimant and the Court agreed with the defendant’s counsel that “not every accident (even if it has serious consequences) has to have been the fault of another; and an occupier is not an insurer against injuries sustained on his premises.”

The law did not impose a strict liability on occupiers for injuries caused by minor defects or blemishes, only to make their land reasonably safe.

Whilst contractors will still owe a duty of care to trespassers, as well as to visitors, the above cases are examples of a common sense approach being taken by the Courts.

For further information, please contact Mike Johnson, Contractor Group Leader, on +44 20 7528 4759 or email

contact Mike Johnson
Contractor Group Leader