Duties of care must be reasonable

Posted: 30th January 2018

Mind the GapCompanies that provide services to the public have a duty to look out for the safety of their customers.

But in a decision concerning a railway accident, the Court of Appeal has emphasised that standards must not be set so high as to render their task unreasonably difficult.

A man who was intoxicated fell off a station platform into the gap between two carriages of a stationary train. As the train left the station, it ran over both his feet. He had to undergo a below knee amputation of his left leg and lost all the toes on his right foot.

He sued the train’s operator for substantial damages on the basis that the onboard guard had been negligent in signalling to the driver that it was safe to pull away.

The man's claim was, however, dismissed by a judge, who exonerated the guard. The Court noted that the guard had earlier seen him standing up against a wall, but making no apparent movement towards the platform edge.

The moving train posed an inevitable hazard and the guard’s duty did not extend to guaranteeing the safety of those on the platform against such an obvious risk. In vigilantly surveying the platform before signalling the driver, he had patently acted with all due care. The Court noted that it was important not to impose unrealistic duties of care so as to make it unreasonably difficult for public service providers to perform their functions.