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Smith v Austin Lifts Ltd

[1959] 2 Lloyd's Rep 583; [1959] 1 WLR 100;

[1959] 1 All ER 81;  (1959) 103 SJ 73

NEGLIGENCE, DUTY OF CARE, DUTY OF OCCUPIER, OCCUPIER’S LIABILITY, EMPLOYER’S LIABILITY, SAFETY AT WORK,

CHANGE OF CONDITION OF PREMISES, DUTY TO INVITEES, EFFECT OF KNOWLEDGE OF EMPLOYEE

Facts

The plaintiff was a fitter who was employed by the first defendants, who had contracted the second defendants to maintain a lift on their premises. The fitter had paid many visits to the machine house in which the winding mechanism of the lift was. The machine house was on the roof of the premises and access to it was gained through a pair of doors to which a ladder led. The plaintiff was aware that the left door was defective. He reported this to his employers, who reported it to the second defendants on four occasions. The occupiers of the premises did not repair the door and the employers did not inspect the place in order to check whether it was safe for their employees to work there. The respondent found that the lower hinge of the left door was broken and he tied the doors together with a wire in order to keep them closed. When visiting the machine house at another time to replace some wire ropes, he found the right door open and the left door jammed inside the machine house. He tried to enter the machine house by putting his weight on the left door in order to leaver himself up. The door gave and he fell off the ladder and was injured. The trial judge held that both the employers and the occupiers were liable, respectively in proportions of 20 and 80 per cent. The Court of Appeal then held that they were not liable. The plaintiff appealed to the House of Lords.

Issue

To what extent are the employers and the occupiers liable in negligence despite the fact that the plaintiff knew that the doors were defective?

Held

The appeal was allowed.

(1) The occupiers are liable to the plaintiff as invitee, despite the fact that he knew that the doors were defective as they changed the condition of the doors and the plaintiff could not fully appreciate the risk created by them for him.

(2) The employers are liable to the plaintiff as they were in breach of their duty to the employee since they failed to check whether the place that their employee was required to work was safe.


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