Ferguson v Welsh: HL 29 Oct 1987

The plaintiff sought damages for personal injury. A council had engaged a competent contractor to carry out demolition works. Unknown to the council, the contractor sub-contracted the works to two brothers who worked in a highly dangerous manner. One of the brothers employed the plaintiff, Mr Ferguson, to help them, and Mr Ferguson was injured when part of the building collapsed.
Held: The council was not liable. Assuming section 2 applied, the council was not liable under 2(4) having engaged a contractor it had reasonable grounds for regarding as competent, and there was no evidence to support any inference that the council or its responsible officers knew or ought to have known that its contractor was likely to contravene the prohibition on sub-contracting. There was no difficulty in finding the plaintiff to be licensee of one person and at the same time a trespasser as against the defendant,
Lord Keith: ‘It may therefore be inferred that an occupier might, in certain circumstances, be liable for something done or omitted to be done on his premises by an independent contractor if he did not take reasonable steps to satisfy himself that the contractor was competent and that the work was being properly done. It would not ordinarily be reasonable to expect an occupier of premises having engaged a contractor whom he has reasonable grounds for regarding as competent, to supervise the contractor’s activities in order to ensure that he was discharging his duty to his employees to observe a safe system of work. In special circumstances, on the other hand, where the occupier knows or has reason to suspect that the contractor is using an unsafe system of work, it might well be reasonable for the occupier to take steps to see that the system was made safe.’ and ‘It is possible to envisage circumstances in which an occupier of premises engaging the services of an independent contractor to carry out work on his premises may, as a result of his state of knowledge and opportunities of supervision, render himself liable to an employee of the contractor who is injured as a result of the defective system of work adopted by the employer. But I incline to think that his liability in such case would be rather that of joint tortfeasor that of an occupier.’


Lord Keith of Kinkel, Lord Brandon of Oakbrook, Lord Griffiths, Lord Oliver of Aylmerton, Lord Goff of Chieveley


[1987] 1 WLR 1553, [1987] UKHL 14




Occupiers Liability Act 1957 2(2)


England and Wales


CitedLadd v Marshall CA 29-Nov-1954
Conditions for new evidence on appeal
At the trial, the wife of the appellant’s opponent said she had forgotten certain events. After the trial she began divorce proceedings, and informed the appellant that she now remembered. He sought either to appeal admitting fresh evidence, or for . .

Cited by:

DistinguishedBottomley v Todmorden Cricket Club CA 7-Nov-2003
The claimant was very badly injured at a bonfire organised by the defendants. He had been asked to help with a part of the display, organised by sub-contractors, which exploded as he was filling it.
Held: The nature of the activity to be . .
AppliedMccook v Lobo and others CA 19-Nov-2002
The defendant was the occupier of premises. He did not direct how the work should be done and was not present at the time the work was being performed.
Held: He had not been in control of the relevant work. Judge LJ referred to Regulation 4(2) . .
CitedGray v Fire Alarm Fabrication Services Ltd and others QBD 3-Mar-2006
The deceased, a maintenance engineer died after falling through a skylight at work. The court considered the respective liabilities of his employer and the landowner. . .
CitedEH Humphries (Norton) Ltd. Thistle Hotels Plc v Fire Alarm Fabrication Services Ltd CA 10-Nov-2006
The sub-contractor’s workman fell through a skylight and died. His employers having settled, obtained contribution orders from the main contractors and building owners who each now appealed.
Held: Whether main contractors were also liable to . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Negligence, Personal Injury

Updated: 08 June 2022; Ref: scu.187568