A trespasser on school property failed in a claim made after he suffered a catastrophic fall. Tom Baker and David Williams explain why.
In April 2015, His Honour Judge Main QC sitting in the High Court dismissed a claim brought by Thomas Buckett who pursued Staffordshire County Council after falling through a skylight in the roof of a school.
Buckett and a group of friends trespassed at the school, originally to play football before going on to commit acts of vandalism and theft from the tuckshop and then climbing onto the roofs of the school. While on the roofs, Buckett jumped down from a bracing beam onto a skylight, falling through the skylight and sustaining a severe head injury.
The judgment involved consideration of the Occupiers Liability Act 1984 which imposes a duty on occupiers to take reasonable care for the safety of trespassers in respect of any risk of injury by reason of any danger arising from the state of the premises or things done or omitted to be done on them.
The three stage test that applies to the existence of the duty is set out in s.1(3) of the Act which provides that a duty is owed to trespassers in respect of any such danger if:
(a) the occupier is aware of the danger or has reasonable grounds to believe that it exists;
(b) the occupier knows or has reasonable grounds to believe that the trespasser is in the vicinity of the danger or that he may come into the vicinity of the danger; and
(c) the risk is one against which, in all the circumstances of the case, the occupier may reasonably be expected to offer the trespasser some protection.
When considering the question of liability, the judge decided that the criminal activity of the claimant and his friends did not preclude the claim because, whilst they had committed acts of vandalism and theft prior to climbing onto the roofs, this had ceased before they climbed onto the roofs and there was no causative link between this activity and the accident. He also decided that the defence of consent could not succeed as the claimant would not have known that the skylight would not support his weight.
The judge found that there was a history of trespassers entering the school's grounds and that it was foreseeable that youths would climb onto the roofs and into the area of the skylights. However, he followed the approach in Tomlinson v Congleton BC and Keown v Coventry Healthcare NHS Trust and decided that the skylight did not constitute a danger (due to its structure, makeup and location) and, therefore, that no duty was owed.
He then went beyond this to hold that, as there was no danger, the claimant failed to satisfy the requirements of s.1(3) (a) and (b). He also found that the risk of someone jumping down from the bracing beam onto the skylight was not one against which the defendant might reasonably be expected to offer protection.