Smith -v- Littlewoods Organisation Limited (Chief Constable, Fife Constabulary, third party); Maloco -v- Littlewoods Organisation Ltd; HL 1987

The defendant acquired a semi derelict cinema with a view to later development of the site. A fire started by others spread to the pursuer’s adjoining property.
Held: The defendants were not liable in negligence. The intervention of a third party to set a fire was not sufficiently foreseeable, even though there had been an earlier fire. Had it been foreseeable, no doubt the pursuers would themselves have warned the defendants of the risk. What a reasonable man is bound to foresee are the probable consequences of his own actions. To be held responsible for the action of others some clear basis must be found for anticipating their action. The House doubted the existence of a touchstone which could be applied as a universal test. It should be left to the good sense of judges ‘to apply realistic standards in conformity with generally accepted patterns of behaviour’ when deciding whether an occupier should be liable in negligence for a danger created on his property by the act of a trespasser.
Lord Goff identified four circumstances in which a party may become liable for the acts of third parties; (a) where there is a special relationship between defendant and plaintiff based on an assumption of responsibility by the defendant; (b) where there is a special relationship between the defendant and the third party based on control by the defendant; (c) where defendant is responsible for a state of danger which may [be] exploited by a third party; and (d) where the defendant is responsible for property which may be used by third party to cause damage.

Court: HL
Date: 01-Jan-1987
Judges: Lord Griffiths, Lord Mackay of Clashfern
Links: Bailii,
References: [1987] AC 241, [1987] 2 WLR 480, [1987] UKHL 3, 1987 SC (HL) 37
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