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.
The common law does not generally impose liability for pure omissions. It is one thing to require a person who embarks on action which may harm others to exercise care. It is another matter to hold a person liable in damages for failing to prevent harm caused by someone else.
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.
Lord Griffiths, Lord Mackay of Clashfern
[1987] AC 241, [1987] 2 WLR 480, [1987] UKHL 3, 1987 SC (HL) 37
CitedBourhill v Young’s Executor HL 5-Aug-1942
When considering claims for damages for shock, the court only recognised the action lying where the injury by shock was sustained ‘through the medium of the eye or the ear without direct contact.’ Wright L said: ‘No doubt, it has long ago been . .
CitedOverseas Tankship (UK) Ltd v Miller Steamship Co Pty (The Wagon Mound) (No 2) PC 25-May-1966
(New South Wales) When considering the need to take steps to avoid injury, the court looked to the nature of defendant’s activity. There was no social value or cost saving in this defendant’s activity. ‘In the present case there was no justification . .
CitedBolton 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 . .
CitedGoldman v Hargrave PC 13-Jun-1966
(Australia) In Western Australia, a red gum tree was struck by lightning and set on fire. The appellant had the tree cut down, but took no reasonable steps by spraying the fire with water to prevent the fire from spreading, believing that it would . .
CitedDorset Yacht Co Ltd v Home Office HL 6-May-1970
A yacht was damaged by boys who had escaped from the supervision of prison officers in a nearby Borstal institution. The boat owners sued the Home Office alleging negligence by the prison officers.
Held: Any duty of a borstal officer to use . .
CitedEvans v Glasgow District Council 1978
. .
CitedLamb v Camden London Borough Council 1981
The property had been left vacant for repairs and then taken over by squatters. A claim was made in respect of the liability of the land-owners for the damage caused by the squatters.
Held: The damage was too remote. The correct test was not . .
CitedP Perl (Exporters) v Camden London Borough Council CA 30-Jun-1983
The plaintiffs had leased basement premises from the defendants and used them to store garments. The defendants owned the adjoining premises. Those premises had a broken lock on the front door. Unauthorised persons were often seen on those premises . .
CitedGlasgow Corporation v Muir HL 16-Apr-1943
The House considered the proper test to define the standard of care that must be adopted by the reasonable man in a claim for negligence.
Held: Lord Clauson said that the test is whether the person owing the duty of care ‘had in contemplation . .
CitedKing v Liverpool City Council CA 1986
The plaintiff was the tenant of a flat in a block of flats owned by the defendant. When the flat immediately above the plaintiff’s flat became vacant, she requested the defendant to board it up so as to secure it against intruders. The defendant . .

Cited by:
CitedMoore v Kirklees Metropolitan Council CA 30-Apr-1999
The claimant was employed as a dinner lady at a junior school. Whilst supervising playtime, a child jumped on her, causing her injury. The council appealed a finding of negligence. The boy had been recognised as being in need of special management . .
CitedThe Attorney General v Hartwell PC 23-Feb-2004
PC (The British Virgin Islands) A police officer had taken the police revolver, and used it to shoot the claimant. It was alleged that the respondent police force were vicariously liable for his acts and also . .
CitedGabriel v Kirklees Metropolitan Council CA 24-Mar-2004
The claimant (aged 6) sought damages after being hurt when other children playing on a building site threw stones from the site, hitting him as he passed by.
Held: The case raised questions of law and it was incumbent on the judge to provide . .
CitedDavies v Stockwell (T/A R and R Stockwell Builiding Contractors) CA 15-Apr-2005
The defendant sought leave to appeal against a finding of laibility after the claimant was injured tripping over a paving stone left by the defendant demolishing a property. Orange bunting strung between posts had been left around the site . .
CitedB and B v A County Council CA 21-Nov-2006
The claimants sought damages from the defendant local authority after their identities had been wrongfully revealed to the natural parents of the adoptees leading to a claimed campaign of harassment. The adopters has specifically requested that . .
CitedHertfordshire Police v Van Colle; Smith v Chief Constable of Sussex Police HL 30-Jul-2008
Police Obligations to Witnesses is Limited
A prosecution witness was murdered by the accused shortly before his trial. The parents of the deceased alleged that the failure of the police to protect their son was a breach of article 2.
Held: The House was asked ‘If the police are alerted . .
CitedPrison Officers Association v Iqbal CA 4-Dec-2009
The claimant, a prisoner, alleged false imprisonment. The prison officers had taken unlawful strike action leaving him to be confined within his cell and unable to be involved in his normal activities. In view of the strike, a governor’s order had . .
CitedMichael and Others v The Chief Constable of South Wales Police and Another SC 28-Jan-2015
The claimants asserted negligence in the defendant in failing to provide an adequate response to an emergency call, leading, they said to the death of their daughter at the hands of her violent partner. They claimed also under the 1998 Act. The . .
CitedThe Law Society of England and Wales v Schubert Murphy (A Firm) CA 25-Aug-2017
The solicitors had made use of the online facility provided by the appellant Law Society to verify the bona fides of a firm of solicitors acting for a third party to a transaction. Relying upon the information, they suffered losses, and claimed in . .
CitedRobinson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police SC 8-Feb-2018
Limits to Police Exemption from Liability
The claimant, an elderly lady was bowled over and injured when police were chasing a suspect through the streets. As they arrested him they fell over on top of her. She appealed against refusal of her claim in negligence.
Held: Her appeal . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 27 October 2021; Ref: scu.183189