Woodward v Mayor of Hastings [1945] KB 174

Tort law – Negligence – Limitation of action


The plaintiff, aged twelve, slipped on an icy surface on the step of a church whilst he was at school. He fell over and sustained injuries. A cleaner had brushed away snow from the step but not placed any material down to neutralise the ice left behind which therefore left the step in a dangerous condition. His mother, as his next friend, claimed to recover damages for the injury, alleging that the cleaner was negligent in her actions and as a result, the governors representing the school were liable for her actions.


An important issue for the court to decide was whether the cleaner was under the control of the governors of the school or whether the governor of the school could limit their liability for the accident by way of the Limitation Act 1939, section 21. Under the statute, the school could potentially limit their liability if it could be proven the cleaner was not acting under their control.


The court held that the school governors were liable for the cleaner’s negligence in this instance. It was deemed that the cleaner was acting as an agent of the school and ought to have been aware of the danger her action had caused. The court also supplemented this with the belief that if the school could prove the cleaner was not under their control, they would still be liable on the basis that they had delegated their duty to the cleaner and she had not discharged this.