Harris v Birkenhead Corporation [1976] 1 WLR 279

Tort law – Damages – Liability for injury


Harris was an infant plaintiff who brought an action against Birkenhead Corporation for damages for the personal injury she had suffered as a four-and-a-half year-old when she fell out of a second floor window and suffered serious injuries. The property was in a clearance area and the corporation, by way of process, usually brick up the ground floor access areas to prevent it being from vandals after they have served notice on the tenant and it is vacant. In this case, they had served notice on the tenants and one of whom left without informing the local authority. On this basis, the corporation had not secured the building and vandals had smashed the window that Harris had fallen out of as a child. In the first instance, the trial judge ruled in favour of the plaintiff which the corporation appealed on the basis that the window presented a dangerous situation.


It was important for this case to establish at which point the local authority and corporation became the occupier of the property. The appeal from the corporation only became relevant if it was found by the Court of Appeal that the corporation was not liable to the plaintiff for the damage.


The court held that the local authority was the legal occupier as they had asserted their right to control the property. Moving forwards, after a service of notice of entry is served to a tenant, the relevant authority becomes the legal occupier. On this basis, the authority was liable for the damage caused to Harris.