Woodland v Essex County Council: SC 23 Oct 2013

The claimant had been seriously injured in an accident during a swimming lesson. She sought to claim against the local authority, and now appealed against a finding that it was not responsible, having contracted out the provision of swimming lessons. She said that the duty of care was non-delegable.
Held: Her appeal succeeded. For a duty to be non-delegable, and in the absence of vicarious liability, the duty had to be one where the defendant had some characteristic making them vulnerable and which required the defendant to retained control over the claimant in order to perform the function for which it had taken resonsibility. The case was remitted to the High Court to decide whether such a duty was owed here and if so whether the defendants were in breach of it.


Lady Hale, Deputy President, Lord Clarke, Lord Wilson, Lord Sumption, Lord Toulson


[2013] UKSC 66, [2013] 3 WLR 1227, [2013] WLR(D) 403, UKSC 2012/0093, [2014] 1 AC 537, [2014] ELR 67, [2014] 1 All ER 482


Bailii, WLRD, Bailii Summary, SC Summary, SC


England and Wales


At QBDWoodland 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 . .
At CAWoodland v Essex County Council CA 9-Mar-2012
The claimant had been injured in a swimming pool during a lesson. The lesson was conducted by outside independent contractors. The claimant appealed against a finding that his argument that they had a non-delegable duty of care was bound to fail. . .
CitedPickard v Smith 1861
Refreshment rooms and a coal-cellar at a railway station were let by the company to one S, the opening for putting coals into the cellar being on the arrival platform. A train coming in whilst the servants of a cod-merchant mere shooting coals into . .
CitedPenny v Wimbledon Urban District Council 1898
The court considered the residual duties of a local authority when hiring an independent company to repair a highway. . .
CitedHolliday v National Telephone Company CA 1899
A passer-by on the highway was injured through the negligence of an independent contractor.
Held: The employer was liable.
A L Smith LJ said: ‘The defence is that the defendants are not liable in respect of the injury sustained by the . .
CitedHoneywill v Larkin CA 1933
The plaintiffs wanted photographs inside a cinema on which they had worked, and asked the defendants to take them. The photographer used a chemical flashlight using magnesium which gave off intense heat. The negligent photographer caused a fire. The . .
CitedSalsbury v Woodland CA 1970
The defendant had instructed independent contractors to remove a large tree in his garden. When they did so, the plaintiff was injured when the car he was in was fouled in a wire brought down by the tree. The defendant householder appealed against a . .
CitedLewis v British Columbia 11-Dec-1997
(Supreme Court of Canada) Torts – Negligence – Highways – Crown liability – Provincial ministry engaging independent contractor to remove rocks from cliff face – Contractor performing work negligently, leaving rocks protruding from cliff face – . .
CitedThe Catholic Child Welfare Society and Others v Various Claimants and The Institute of The Brothers of The Christian Schools and Others SC 21-Nov-2012
Law of vicarious liability is on the move
Former children at the children’s homes had sought damages for sexual and physical abuse. The court heard arguments as to the vicarious liability of the Society for abuse caused by a parish priest visiting the school. The Court of Appeal had found . .
CitedMajrowski v Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust HL 12-Jul-2006
Employer can be liable for Managers Harassment
The claimant employee sought damages, saying that he had been bullied by his manager and that bullying amounting to harassment under the 1997 Act. The employer now appealed a finding that it was responsible for a tort committed by a manager, saying . .
CitedRylands v Fletcher CEC 1865
Mr Fletcher’s Lancashire coal mine was flooded by the water from Mr Rylands’ mill reservoir in 1860-61.
Held: Mr Rylands was responsible. Blackburn J said: ‘We think that the true rule of law is, that the person who for his own purposes brings . .
CitedRylands v Fletcher HL 1868
The defendant had constructed a reservoir to supply water to his mill. Water escaped into nearby disused mineshafts, and in turn flooded the plaintiff’s mine. The defendant appealed a finding that he was liable in damages.
Held: The defendant . .
CitedDalton v Henry Angus and Co HL 14-Jun-1881
The court explained the doctrine of lost modern grant. Where there has been more than 20 years’ uninterrupted enjoyment of an easement, and that enjoyment has the necessary qualities to fulfil the requirements of prescription, then unless, for some . .
CitedHughes v Percival 1883
The parties were neighbouring householders with a party wall. A builder working in the defendant’s house negligently cut into the party wall, causing the partial collapse of both the defendant’s house and the Plaintiff’s house next-door.
Held: . .
CitedWilsons and Clyde Coal Co Ltd v English HL 19-Jul-1937
The employer had entrusted the task of organising a safe system of work to an employee as a result of whose negligence another employee was injured. The employer could not have been held liable for its own negligence, since it had taken all . .
CitedLochgelly Iron and Coal Co v McMullan HL 10-Jul-1933
Lord Wright coined the term ‘statutory negligence’. He affirmed the need for ‘damage’ as an essential element of actionable negligence, saying: ‘In strict legal analysis, negligence means more than heedless or careless conduct, whether in omission . .
CitedMorris v CW Martin Ltd CA 1966
Diplock LJ said: ‘The legal relationship of bailor and bailee of a chattel can exist independently of any contract.’ Where goods are lost or damaged, the burden is on the bailee (or sub-bailee) to ‘show – that the loss or damage caused without any . .
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 . .
CitedPhoto Production Ltd v Securicor Transport Ltd HL 14-Feb-1980
Interpretation of Exclusion Clauses
The plaintiffs had contracted with the defendants for the provision of a night patrol service for their factory. The perils the parties had in mind were fire and theft. A patrol man deliberately lit a fire which burned down the factory. It was an . .
CitedWhite and Another v Jones and Another HL 16-Feb-1995
Will Drafter liable in Negligence to Beneficiary
A solicitor drawing a will may be liable in negligence to a potential beneficiary, having unduly delayed in the drawing of the will. The Hedley Byrne principle was ‘founded upon an assumption of responsibility.’ Obligations may occasionally arise . .
CitedMcDermid v Nash Dredging and Reclamation Co Ltd HL 2-Jul-1986
The Court explained the duty of an employer towards his employees as regards their safety: ‘an employer owes to his employee a duty to exercise reasonable care to ensure that the system of work provided for him is a safe one. Secondly, a provision . .
CitedBamford v Turnley 5-Nov-1860
An action lies for a nuisance to the house or land of a person, whenever, taking all the circumstances into consideration, including the nature and extent of the plaintiff’s enjoyment before the act complained of, the annoyance is sufficiently great . .
CitedBamford v Turnley 2-Jul-1862
The defendant burned bricks on his land, causing a nuisance to his neighbours.
Held: It was no answer to an action for damages that he selected a proper place within his land for an activity which would interfere with a neighbour’s enjoyment . .
CitedDonoghue (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 . .
CitedGlasgow Corporation v Taylor HL 18-Nov-1921
A father brought an action for damages for the death of his son who had eaten poisonous berries growing in one of the defenders’ public parks. The plants were easily accessible from a children’s play area and it was said that the defender had a duty . .
CitedM’Kibbin v Glasgow Corporation 1920
The pursuer, a woman with limited vision was injured falling into a hole for which the defender had responsibility. The defender replied that the hole was protected by a water hydrant.
Held: The claim failed. There was evidence that the . .
CitedAlmeroth v WE Chivers and Son Ltd CA 1948
The plaintiff peddler had his barrow by one kerb. He crossed the road to serve a customer, but on return when crossing the kerb from a roadway tripped over a small pile of slates and was injured. The slates did not overlap the kerb. They had been . .
CitedPritchard v Post Office CA 1950
Servants of the Post Office had protected a hole where they were working by surrounding it with their usual light fence but the plaintiff, a blind woman, stumbled through the fence and was injured.
Held: The plaintiff’s appeal failed. In this . .
CitedMyton v Woods CA 1980
A claim was made against a local education authority for the negligence of a taxi firm employed by the authority to drive children to and from school.
Held: The claim failed. The authority had no statutory duty to transport children, but only . .

Cited by:

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 . .
CitedCox v Ministry of Justice SC 2-Mar-2016
The claimant was working in a prison supervising working prisoners. One of them dropped a bag of rice on her causing injury. At the County Curt, the prisoner was found negligence in the prisoner, but not the appellant for vicarious liability. The . .
CitedNA v Nottinghamshire County Council QBD 2-Dec-2014
The claimant said that as a child the defendant had failed in its duty to protect her from her abusive mother and later from foster parents.
Held: Males J, dealt with the issues of liability and limitation, leaving issues concerning causation . .
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 . .
CitedNA v Nottinghamshire County Council CA 12-Nov-2015
Appeal against finding that a local authority was not responsible for the sexual abuse of the appellant whilst with foster carers as a child.
Held: As to whether the duty as non-delegable, such a duty must relate to a function which the local . .
CitedBarclays Bank Plc v Various Claimants SC 1-Apr-2020
The Bank had employed a doctor to provide medical assessments as necessary. The doctor had used the opportunities presented to assault sexually many patients. The court was now asked whether the Bank was vicariously liable for the acts of this . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Leading Case

Updated: 07 August 2022; Ref: scu.516927