Case name & citation: Phipps v Rochester Corporation (1955) 1 QB 450
Year of the case: 1955
Jurisdiction: England and Wales, UK law
The learned judge: Devlin J.
What is the case about?
This case talks about the liability of an occupier towards children.
The obligation of occupiers towards children:
An occupier of premises or of other structures such as ships, vehicles, etc. holds an obligation towards the persons who enter those premises in respect of their personal safety as well as the safety of their property there. And especially for obligation towards children, the Occupiers Liability Act of 1957 says that an occupier must be prepared for the children to be less careful than adults. Therefore, he has to make sure that the premises are safe for all visitors including children. However, if the premises are not of a nature that may be suitable for very young children, the law also allows an occupier to presume that children of tender age would be accompanied by an adult to look after them. The case of Phipps v Rochester Corporation is one such example where the law relies on this presumption.
Facts of the case (Phipps v Rochester Corporation)
The plaintiff was only a five-year-old child. He, with his sister aged seven, went to an open space on a building site belonging to the defendants. It was in the process of being developed with some building work going on.
The plaintiff fell down in an open trench there and broke his leg.
They used to play there often with other children and the defendants had done nothing to warn the children away.
Can the defendants be held liable for the injury suffered by the plaintiff?
To what extent is the occupier liable for injury caused to very young children?
Judgement in “Phipps v Rochester Corporation”
The defendants were not held liable. It was observed that there was no reason to assume that children of small age will be allowed to wander over the site without being accompanied by a proper guardian.
It was decided that the occupiers of the land were not liable, because the parents should have been taking care of the child. Occupiers are entitled to expect that “very young children” are accompanied by a responsible adult when visiting their facilities so that they do not get into obvious dangers.
But it should be remembered that this rule shall not apply to a case where it is in the knowledge of the occupier that little children are permitted to go unaccompanied by their parents in the belief that they would be safe, for example, to a recognized playground.
A similar case
The reasoning laid down in Phipps v Rochester Corporation was also used in Simkiss v Rhondda BC (1983). In that case, a seven-year-old child fell from a slope opposite the flats where she lived. Her father had permitted her to picnic there since he thought the slope was not unsafe. The children were able to slide down the slope while sitting on a blanket, and this is how the accident occurred.
Nonetheless, the Court of Appeal determined that the local authority was not liable. It could not be maintained that the defendants should consider the place dangerous since the child’s father himself did not consider it to be dangerous.
Despite these two cases, there have been many instances in which the courts have been very considerate towards child trespassers, and it is somewhat rare nowadays for a court to determine that there is no liability on the part of an occupier towards children on the grounds that their parents should have been caring for them. Nevertheless, the Courts always assess the facts and circumstances of each case before determining whether or not an occupier is liable.
And, as a general rule, children should always be supervised.
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