Picture the scene; you are a homeowner and have employed a builder to undertake renovations to your home.  A visitor to your home suffers injury caused as a result of the work being undertaken.  Are you liable? Potentially so.

An Occupier of land and property owns a duty of care to both lawful visitors and trespassers. The duty is enshrined in the Occupiers’ Liability Acts 1957 and 1984 with the latter relating to those trespassing on premises.

An occupier owes a duty in respect of “dangers due to the state of the premises or to things done or omitted to be done on them” s1(1) of both Acts.  What is the difference between occupancy duties and activity duties? Who is an occupier?

The duty owed to a visitor is to take care as is reasonable in all the circumstances to ensure he will be reasonably safe in using the premises for the purposes for which he is invited or permitted by the occupier, to be there s2(2) of the 1957 Act.   Thus this limits the scope of the duty to matters relating to the premises themselves, not things (activities) done on them. See Fairchild v Glenhaven Funeral Services Ltd [2002] 1 WLR 1052.

In any case the premises must be dangerous and someone choosing to do something dangerous on otherwise safe premises cannot expect to be successful in their claims.   See Geary v JD Wetherspoon PLC [2011] EWHC 1506 (QB).

You can delegate your common law duty of care and avoid liability if the person to whom you delegate is negligent, although the scope to do so is limited to work of “construction, maintenance or repair”.  Whilst the Courts have stretched the meaning to cover demolition work, the scenario above may well allow for a sub-contractor defence.   You must however ensure that you are acting reasonably in entrusting the work to the contractor and that you have taken steps to ensure the work carried out is done so properly and that the contractor is competent.  Thus, if you hire a contractor with good references and insurance you should be fine (Ferguson v Welsh 1987) but if you hire, for want of a better expression, cowboys, then you may find yourself liable (Bottomless v Todmorden Cricket Club 2003).

What is the person injured on your property is a trespasser? The 1984 Act covers the same and again the premises must be dangerous/unsafe.  If injury arises due to the state of premises then liability may well attach. The recent case of Buckett v Staffordshire County Council  which decided that even thought the event was foreseeable the case failed as the property was properly maintained.  Had the premises concerned been in a poor state of repair it is likely the outcome would have been very different.

In summary therefore it is important to ensure that you maintain your premises and, if having work done, that you ensure those you entrust to do the work are competent.

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