06 October, 2016
English Heritage v Taylor (2016) EWCA Civ 448
The claimant had been visiting Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight when he fell and suffered a serious head injury. The claimant lost his footing, fell across a steep grassy slope, over a wall and down a sheer drop into a moat. The claimant brought a claim pursuant to negligence and section 2 Occupiers' Liability Act 1957.
At first instance, the Recorder found that English Heritage had breached its duty to warn visitors of the danger. The claimant was also found to be 50% contributorily negligent.
The fundamental issue was whether anyone contemplating going down the steep slope to the pathway could have seen that there was a sheer drop into the moat.
The Court of Appeal upheld the original decision, finding that English Heritage ought to have provided a sign warning visitors of the sheer drop which was not an obvious danger to visitors. The risk of falling 12 feet down a sheer drop was of a "different magnitude", involving "a real and obvious risk of serious injury". A sign warning of the sheer drop would influence the behaviour of most sensible individuals. The court reiterated the principle that adult visitors did not require warnings of obvious risk except where they did not have a genuine and informed choice.
During the appeal, it was argued that if the decision was upheld, public organisations would be under pressure to adopt a defensive approach, leading to a proliferation of unsightly warning signs.
This issue was directly addressed by the Court. It was stressed that the decision should not be interpreted as requiring occupiers like English Heritage to place warning signs in prominent positions all over sensitive historic sites. The recorder found the existence of a breach of the common duty of care on a very specific basis, namely the failure to provide a sign warning of a sheer drop which was not obvious.