It is a wonder that we ever dare invite people into our homes or gardens given the potential for legal action should anything untoward happen to them. Fortunately, visitors rarely trip on the loose flagstone or collapse the rotten fence thus injuring themselves and leaving the occupier of the property liable for the consequences, but it happens.

The original Occupiers Liability Act (OLA) 1957 codified the common law duty of the occupier to ensure that their visitors are reasonably safe in using the premises for the purpose for which they were invited. This is civil law and carries no criminal liability but it makes the occupier liable for injury or damage resulting from the state of the land, or for something done (or not done) on the land.

The OLA 1984 was introduced to clear up the anomaly of landowners being sued by trespassers entering their property and injuring themselves. Scale that crumbling wall and, if it collapsed, the owner could be liable. The fact it was unsafe or lacked a large warning sign made the occupier potentially liable. The 1984 Act made the occupier liable, but only where they were aware of a danger and did nothing about it.

In 2004, the House of Lords (Tomlinson v Congleton BC) rejected the claim of a trespasser injured diving into a shallow pond, saying that if he were successful all trees would have to be cut down lest ‘youths climb them and fall’. However, despite this blow for common sense, we live increasingly in a blame culture and occupiers need to ensure that their properties and everything on them are kept in good repair lest they are blamed for the consequences.

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