Carmarthenshire County Council v Lewis: HL 17 Feb 1955

The House considered the unexplained fact that in the temporary absence of the teacher (who, on the evidence, was not negligent) it was possible for a child of four to wander from the school premises onto the highway, through a gate which was either open or very easy for him to open, was held to disclose negligence on the part of the school authority. The teacher with immediate supervisory duties over the child was acquitted of negligence – she was called to attend an emergency elsewhere.
Held: The duty broken was one owed to a driver in the street outside the school, who in trying to avoid hitting the child drove into a telegraph post and sustained fatal injuries. The House considered also the duty of parents to care for their children leaving school to get home.
Lord Reid, (majority), said that it ought to have been anticipated by the appellants or their responsible officers that if a child was left unsupervised (for good reason or not) it might well try to get out from the school grounds onto the street and that if it did a traffic accident was far from improbable. This would have been very easy to prevent by making it difficult or impossible for such a child to be able to open the gate from the yard on to the roadway. The failure to do so led to the accident. To fail to do so was to fail to take reasonable care (certainly, for the safety of the child, but also, it was held, for the driver who forseeably might be injured in striking or avoiding the child once in the road).
However, ‘There is no absolute duty; there is only a duty not to be negligent, and a mother is not negligent unless she fails to do something which a prudent or reasonable mother in her position would have been able to do and would have done.’
Lord Keith encapsulated the decision to the effect that the facts suggested negligence on the part of someone for whom the authority was responsible, in his opening remarks: ‘My Lords, if I find two toddlers, not quite four years of age, unaccompanied in a busy street, exposed to all the perils of a traffic accident, my natural reaction is to think that someone has been thoughtless, or careless, or negligent of their safety.’


Reid, Keith LL


[1955] 1 All ER 565 HL(E), [1955] 2 WLR 517, [1955] AC 549, [1955] UKHL 2




England and Wales


Appeal fromLewis v Carmarthenshire County Council CA 1953
The primary duty of care of a school toward a pupil ends at the school gate, although the school will have a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that young children who are not old enough to look after themselves do not leave the school premises . .

Cited by:

CitedBritish Railways Board v Herrington HL 16-Feb-1972
Land-owner’s Possible Duty to Trespassers
The plaintiff, a child had gone through a fence onto the railway line, and been badly injured. The Board knew of the broken fence, but argued that they owed no duty to a trespasser.
Held: Whilst a land-owner owes no general duty of care to a . .
CitedCommonwealth v Introvigne 1982
(High Court of Australia) A pupil was injured when he swung, whilst skylarking unsupervised, from a halyard attached to a flagpole in the school quadrangle. The halyard was in turn connected to a pulley which was part of a truck attached to the top . .
CitedWoodland v The Swimming Teachers’ Association and Others QBD 17-Oct-2011
The court was asked as to the vicarious or other liability of a school where a pupil suffered injury at a swimming lesson with a non-employee during school time, and in particular whether it had a non-delegable duty to ensure the welfare of children . .
CitedArmes v Nottinghamshire County Council SC 18-Oct-2017
The claimant had been abused as a child by foster parents with whom she had been placed by the respondent authority. The court was now asked, the Council not having been negligent, were they in any event liable having a non-delegable duty of care . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 16 September 2022; Ref: scu.181261