Bolton v Stone: HL 10 May 1951

The plaintiff was injured by a prodigious and unprecedented hit of a cricket ball over a distance of 100 yards. He claimed damages in negligence.
Held: When looking at the duty of care the court should ask whether the risk was not so remote that a reasonable person would not have anticipated it. It was not negligent for a cricket club to do nothing about the risk of someone being injured by a cricket ball hit out of the ground. They were carrying on a lawful and socially useful activity, and would have had to stop playing cricket at that ground. Even though injury was foreseeable it was still in all the circumstances reasonable to do nothing about it. There had to be a balance between the likely severity of the accident and the cost of avoiding the risk.
Read L said: ‘My Lords, it was readily foreseeable that an accident such as befell the respondent might possibly occur during one of the appellants’ cricket matches. Balls had been driven into the public road from time to time and it was obvious that, if a person happened to be where a ball fell, that person would receive injuries which might or might not be serious. On the other hand it was plain that the chance of that happening was small. ‘
and ‘If cricket cannot be played on a ground without creating a substantial risk, then it should not be played there at all’.
Porter L: ‘But the question remains: Is it enough to make an action negligent to say that its performance may possibly cause injury, or must some greater probability exist of that result ensuing in order to make those responsible for its occurrence guilty of negligence.’ and ‘It is not enough that the event should be such as can reasonably be foreseen; the further result that injury is likely to follow must also be such as a reasonable man would contemplate, before he can be convicted of actionable negligence. Nor is the remote possibility of injury occurring enough; there must be sufficient probability to lead a reasonable man to anticipate it. The existence of some risk is an ordinary incident of life, even when all due care has been, as it must be, taken.’ and ‘The quantum of danger must always be a question of degree. It is not enough that there is a remote possibility that injury may occur: the question is, would a reasonable man anticipate it? I do not think that he would, and in any case, unless an appellate body are of opinion that he clearly ought to have done so, the tribunal upon whom lies the duty of finding the facts is the proper judge of whether he would or not.’
Lord Radcliffe: ‘I can see nothing unfair in the appellants being required to compensate the respondent for the serious injury that she has received as a result of the sport that they have organized on their cricket ground at Cheetham Hill. But the law of negligence is concerned less with what is fair than with what is culpable, and I cannot persuade myself that the appellants have been guilty of any culpable act or omission in this case.’ and ‘unless there has been something which a reasonable man would blame as falling beneath the standard of conduct that he would set for himself and require of his neighbour, there has been no breach of legal duty.’
Lord Oaksey said: ‘The standard of care in the law of negligence is the standard of an ordinarily careful man, but in my opinion an ordinarily careful man does not take precautions against every foreseeable risk. He can, of course, foresee the possibility of many risks, but life would be almost impossible if he were to attempt to take precautions against every risk which he can foresee. He takes precautions against risks which are reasonably likely to happen. Many foreseeable risks are extremely unlikely to happen and cannot be guarded against except by almost complete isolation.’

Porter, Read, Radcliffe, Oaksey, Normand LL
[1951] AC 850, [1951] 1 All ER 1078, [1951] UKHL 2
England and Wales
Appeal fromBolton v Stone CA 2-Jan-1949
(Reversed, but dicta of Oliver J approved) . .
At First InstanceBolton v Stone KBD 1949
The plaintiff was hit by a cricket ball hit from a cricket ground, and sought damages.
Oliver J described the balancing exercise required in nuisance cases: ‘Whether such an act does constitute a nuisance must be determined not merely by an . .
ExplainedDonoghue (or M’Alister) v Stevenson HL 26-May-1932
Decomposed Snail in Ginger Beer Bottle – Liability
The appellant drank from a bottle of ginger beer manufactured by the defendant. She suffered injury when she found a half decomposed snail in the liquid. The glass was opaque and the snail could not be seen. The drink had been bought for her by a . .

Cited by:
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CitedGerrard v Staffordshire Potteries Ltd CA 2-Nov-1994
The plaintiff was injured when working for the defendants spraying glaze onto jars. A small foreign body was blown into her eye. She said that no eye protection had been suuplied as required by the regulations.
Held: The plaintiff’s appeal . .
CitedWhippey v Jones CA 8-Apr-2009
The claimant was running along a river embankment. A large dog owned by the appellant, taking it for a walk, was off the leash. It ran out at the claimant who broke his ankle falling into the river. The defendant appealed against a finding that he . .
CitedVarious Claimants v The Catholic Child Welfare Society and Others CA 26-Oct-2010
Child sexual abuse was alleged by 150 claimants against staff members of a community home with teachers supplied by the defendants. The court had asked whether they had vicarious liability for the acts of their staff, and now whether the board of . .
CitedWooldridge v Sumner and Another CA 4-Jun-1962
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Held: The defendant’s appeal against the finding of negligence succeeded: ‘a competitor or player . .
CitedMiller v Jackson CA 6-Apr-1977
The activities of a long established cricket club had been found to be a legal nuisance, because of the number of cricket balls landing in the gardens of neighbouring houses. An injunction had been granted to local householders who complained of . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Leading Case

Updated: 01 November 2021; Ref: scu.184790