Crushed to death stealing a catalytic converter

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The Occupiers’ Liability Act 1984 imposes a duty of care on landowners (occupiers) to take reasonable care for the safety of trespassers.

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It was shortly after my last legal update on the “optimistic” request that a client garage compensate a consumer for not telling him at the point of sale that catalytic converters can be stolen, did I read the article below

The question was asked – what liability could there be on the garage where someone breaks in and ends up getting injured or getting killed when they are there unlawfully?

Some people think that if you have broken into someone else’s property with ill intent then you deserve anything and everything you get.  This is not so in the eyes of the law – as Norfolk farmer Tony Martin found when he shot burglars encroaching into his home in 1999 killing one of them – as he was sent to prison initially for murder but downgraded to manslaughter due to diminished responsibility.

It is the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1984 which imposes a duty of care on landowners (occupiers) to take reasonable care for the safety of trespassers in respect of any risk of their suffering by reason of any danger due to the state of the premises – or to things done or omitted to be done on them.

The threshold test is set out in Section 1 (3) of the Act which provides that a duty is owed to trespassers in respect of any such risk 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.

As you can imagine, cases turn on their specific facts such as several years ago when the High Court in Buckett v Staffordshire County Council dismissed a claim brought against them by a Claimant after he fell through a skylight whilst trespassing on the roof a school when he was aged 16.  The court decided that even though his presence on the roof near the skylight ought reasonably to have been foreseen, the council did not owe a duty of care under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1984 as the skylight’s structure, makeup and location on the roof did not constitute a danger.  

Even though children trespassing on the roof and proximity to the skylight was foreseeable, the claimant’s injuries were caused by his own action of jumping onto the skylight.  And because the skylight was not faulty or inherently dangerous, the council was not liable.  This followed a principle set by the House of Lords in Tomlinson v Congleton Borough Council in 2004 where a 12 year old was injured falling on a fire escape when trespassing.  As the fire escape was not defective, in need of repair or otherwise dangerous, the council had no liability.

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