Lear v Hickstead & W H Security: a lesson in the law on duty of care and breach
On the face of it, Lear v Hickstead Ltd and W H Security Ltd appears another first instance decision turning on the facts and ultimately that is the case. However, the case is useful in that it provides an in-depth discussion on the application of both the duty of care under the Occupiers’ Liability Act (OLA) 1957 and the common law duty of care.
Mr Lear suffered devastating injuries when the ramp of his horse box fell on him whilst he was attending a horse show at the first defendant’s show ground. The second defendant was contracted to provide parking management services at the event. It was alleged he was guided to park his horsebox in a place which caused an obstruction, although this was disputed by the second defendant. As it was a hot day, Mr Lear had left the ramp of his horse box down whilst he watched the competing and waited his turn. However, during the time he was away from the box, an unknown person manually raised the ramp on this box, presumably to try and pass. The ramp was hydraulically operated and unknown to Mr Lear, by forcing it closed manually, an airlock was created in the hydraulic mechanism, which meant that when he returned and attempted to bring the ramp down it sprung open suddenly crushing him to the ground.
This case is significant insofar as the first defendant disputed the applicability of the OLA 1957 to the particular circumstances and both defendants contended the injury was not reasonably foreseeable within the common law duty of care.
While the court ultimately dismissed the claim on the basis that a breach of duty was not made out, on careful analysis of the authorities, it concluded that the parking activities were such that they created an “occupancy liability” on the part of the first defendant under the OLA 1957 and so a duty of care arose. There was a detailed review of the authorities, including Tomlinson v Congleton Borough Council as well as Fairchild v Glenhaven Funeral Services relating to the applicability of the OLA 1957 in “activity” related accidents as opposed to pure “state of premises” claims, as well as providing a tort rehearsal of the principle of reasonable foreseeability. However, as with any case, the application of the law turned on the specific facts.
Further, the court gave a wide interpretation on the issue of foreseeability, accepting that all the claimant needed to establish was that there was a reasonably foreseeable risk of injury arising from the raising and lowering of box ramps that were causing an obstruction. As a consequence, a duty of care on the part of both defendants arose in common law.
Whilst this case is a first instance decision and has not created new law it does provide a helpful analysis of both the statutory duty of care under the OLA 1957 and the common law issue of reasonable foreseeability.