Haley v London Electricity Board
House of Lords
Citations:  AC 778;  3 WLR 479;  3 All ER 185; (1965) 129 JP 14; (1964) 108 SJ 637;  CLY 1670.
The defendants were electricity undertakers who dug a trench in the pavement of one suburb. When they left it alone placed a long hammer across the pavement, at an angle and leaning on some railings. The claimant was blind, so he did not see the hammer. While he was using a white stick to feel for obstacles, it failed to touch the hammer. The claimant tripped over the hammer, fell into the trench and was severely injured.
The claimant sued the defendant in negligence. The defendants argued that they had not breached their duty of care, because they had taken reasonable steps which would keep any sighted pedestrian safe.
- Was the claimant’s special vulnerability relevant to determining the standard of care?
The House of Lords held in favour of the claimant. Since it was reasonably foreseeable that a blind person might walk down the pavement, the defendant had to take reasonable steps to safeguard the claimant from the danger. They did not take adequate steps to protect a blind person (such as by putting a fence in the way), so they breached their duty of care.
This Case is Authority For…
Where the claimant has a known or reasonably foreseeable vulnerability, as part of their duty of care to the public the defendant must take reasonable steps to avoid causing harm to a person with that vulnerability.
Lords Reid and Guest noted, however, that defendants are entitled to assume that people with vulnerabilities will take reasonable care to protect themselves. A blind person would be expected to use a white stick (or equivalent precautions) when out in public, for example.
Lord Reid noted that when determining what is reasonably foreseeable, the court should have regard to common general knowledge.