No duty to warn against the obvious

Posted: 25th October 2016

FootbridgeProperty owners owe a legal duty to ensure that their visitors are reasonably safe – but that does not mean that they have to warn against obvious risks. The Court of Appeal made that point in clearing a local authority of liability in respect of a cyclist who was badly injured when he fell off an ornamental bridge.

The man was pushing his bike across the narrow Victorian bridge when he fell over its low parapet, about 30cm high, onto rocks below.  He suffered grave injuries and sued the council for a seven-figure sum under the Occupiers' Liability Act 1957. At first instance, the council was found 60 per cent liable for the accident by a judge on the basis that the absence of hand rails from the bridge created a foreseeable risk of injury and the local authority should have posted signs warning of the danger in order to discharge its duty to take reasonable care for the safety of the public.

In upholding the council’s challenge to that ruling, the Court of Appeal noted that not every accident has to be someone’s fault. The bridge, which was similar to many others around the country, had been in place since the mid-19th Century but there had been no reports of any similar accidents. Any user of the bridge would have appreciated the need to take care when crossing it and a formal risk assessment would not have lessen the accident risk. The standard of care required of the council by the judge had been set too high and he had failed to identify what the relevant danger was before considering whether the occupier had to do anything about it.

This decision reinforces the point that an occupier only has to exercise reasonable care for the safety of any visitors. The duty is not an absolute duty to prevent all accidents.