Phipps v Rochester Corporation: Occupiers liability and young children

Areas of applicable law: Tort law – Occupiers liablility – Duty of care

Main arguments in this case: Do occupiers owe same level of duty of care to every visitors who come onto their land?

An occupier has to make sure that his premises (which according to Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 can include buildings and land to fixed and movable structure such as a ship) are safe for the visitors. However if  premises pose risk of harm and therefore may not be suitable for certain visitors such as very young children, then the law also allows an occupier to presume that such young children would be accompanied by an adult who would be looking after them. This presumption may aid the occupier to lower the expectancy of care by him.

In another words, an occupier does not have to owe a duty of care to very young children at the same level he or she would have to owe to an adult. It is because that an occupier can presume that a prudent parent or a guardian would not let their very young children to visit places that might pose danger or harm to them.  

The fact of the case:In Phipps v Rochester Corporation (1955) the claimant who was five years of age and was picking berries with his seven year old sister when he fell into a trench and broke his leg. The land was owned by the defendant company who were building houses on that land. The area was open and though the defendants knew that local children were using the land as a play area, they had nothing in place to keep the children out.

The court decided that the defendants were not liable on the basis that the defendants could presume that given the age of the children, no sensible parents would allow them to wander off to such site on their own without making sure that the site was safe for them to visit. The decision of no liability was given despite the fact that the defendants had not put out any notice or warning about the site’s unsuitability for young children.

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