Darby v National Trust – Case Summary

Darby v National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty

Court of Appeal

Citations: [2001] EWCA Civ 189; (2001) 3 LGLR 29; [2001] PIQR P27; [2001] CLY 4504.


The claimant was the estate of a man who drowned while swimming in a pool at the defendant’s stately home. The defendant had taken no real effort to warn or discourage people from swimming in the pool, as they did not think they had to warn against the obvious risk of drowning. Occasionally, their employees would warn swimmers that there was a risk of catching Weil’s disease from the water.

The claimant sued the defendant for occupier’s liability under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957. The claimant argued that the defendant should have put up a clear ‘no Swimming’ sign and taken further steps to discourage swimmers.

  1. Was the defendant under a duty to warn or discourage people from swimming?
  2. Was the defendant under a duty to protect swimmers from Weil’s disease, and is such a duty relevant in the present case?

The Court held in favour of the defendant. They were not under a duty to warn against obvious risks. There were no special or hidden hazards here: drowning was an obvious risk inherent from swimming in murky, cold ponds. Since the risk of contracting Weil’s disease was fundamentally different from the risk of drowning, any duty to prevent Weil’s disease was inapplicable here.

This Case is Authority For…

Occupiers are not under a duty to warn against obvious dangers.

Duties of care do not exist in the abstract: they are duties to protect people from specific types of harm. Where a person is under a duty to protect others from a particular danger, this duty cannot be relied on in relation to losses or injuries of a fundamentally different nature.