Buckett v Staffordshire County Council QBD (13.4.2015)

Facts

The Claimant sustained severe injuries while trespassing on school grounds on a weekend afternoon with a group of other youths.

The group had spent some time climbing on the low roofs of the school and breaking into and stealing from the tuck shop. Finally, in the early evening, the Claimant accessed the upper roofs and climbed over fencing separating a section of flat roof from a pitched roof.

This section had a number of skylights that were raised above the surface and consisted of panes of unstrengthened glass.The Claimant perched on a diagonal brace and from this jumped onto a skylight and fell through the glass.

The defendant was responsible for the safety of the school and grounds.

Held

The court found that it was foreseeable that youths would trespass on the school grounds and might access the single storey flat roofs. Once on these lower roofs, it was easy to access the upper flat roofs and it was therefore foreseeable that any trespasser would be in proximity to the skylights. It was also foreseeable that a trespasser would climb onto the fencing and gain access to the diagonal brace, which was an obvious standing point.

It was considered that the Claimant had jumped onto the skylight thinking it would hold his weight and not with the intention of breaking it. The skylights were obvious, not defective or in need of repair, and clearly not meant to be walked on.

The Claimant’s injuries arose from his own actions of jumping onto the skylight. Accordingly the Defendant did not owe the Claimant any duty to control that activity

as a trespasser, even though the Claimant’s presence in the vicinity of the skylight ought reasonably to have been foreseen.

In the circumstances what the defendant knew or ought to have known were not the key to establishing liability. The court did not accept that the skylight, in the context of its structure, makeup and location on the roof, was a danger due to the state of the premises or things done or omitted to be done on them. Accordingly no duty was owed to the Claimant as a trespasser and his claim was dismissed.

What can we learn?

  • The case demonstrates the importance of an occupier’s system of premises risk assessments and maintenance. As the claimant could not establish any defect in relation to the skylight, no duty of care arose under the Occupiers Liability Acts
  • The Claimant’s own action of jumping onto the skylight was the direct cause of his injuries. Even though it was reasonably foreseeable that he could be present near the skylight, the local authority did not owe him any duty to control his activity as a trespasser
  • The case possibly indicates a change in approach of the courts, which may have placed increased importance on the limited resources now available to schools and local authorities