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Anns v Merton London Borough Council [1978] AC 728

The availability of a duty of care in negligence

Facts

The local authority approved building plans for a block of flats and the flats were built later that year. However, by 1970 structural movement had begun to occur in the properties causing cracking to the walls and other damage, causing the properties to become dangerous. The claimant tenants in the flat began proceedings in 1972 in negligence against the council on the basis that the council had failed to properly inspect the building walls properly in order to ensure that the foundations were laid to the correct depth shown in the plans.

Issue

There were two specific issues. (1) Whether the council owed a duty of care to the claimants in respect of the incorrect depth of the foundations laid by the third-party builder. (2) Whether the claim was statute barred.

Held

(1) It was held that the council may be liable in negligence, but in limited circumstances. The relevant legislative provisions with regard to inspection did not place a duty on the council to inspect the walls, but did allow it the power to, if it considered inspection necessary. Therefore, failing to inspect would not render the council liable unless it was considered that it had failed to properly exercise its discretion to inspect and that they had failed to ensure proper compliance with building regulations.  If inspections were carried out, the council retained discretion as to the manner of the inspections. If this discretion was not genuinely exercised, the council may be liable in negligence. (2) The claim was not statute barred, the limitation period running from the date at which the dangerous state of the property became apparent.


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