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Introduction

Occupiers’ liability concerns the duty of an occupier of land towards those injured on that land. It is narrower than Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] liability and is generally governed by statute, in the form of the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957, supplemented by the Defective Premises Act 1972 for lawful visitors, and the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1984 for non-lawful visitors. British Railways Board v Herrington [1972] also plays a part in liability for non-lawful visitors.

Lawful visitors

Common law

Under the common law, occupiers owe a limited duty of care to all lawful visitors. Visitors can either be contractual entrants (where liability depends on the contract), invitees (such as customers, who are to be protected from unusual dangers), licensees (people who enter for their own purposes, who are to be protected from concealed dangers) or trespassers (who are to be protected from intentional harm and recklessness). However, there is plenty of uncertainty in the common law, including, courtesy of London Graving Dock v Horton [1951], an inability of invitees to sue for known dangers, which undermines the volenti defence, and, from Slater v Clay Cross Co [1956], an inability to use occupiers’ liability in suing for activity which take place on land. This led to the legislature intervening with the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957.

Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957

The 1957 Act serves a number of purposes. In section 1, the application of an occupier’s duty is defined...

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