Hartley v Mayoh & Co – Case Summary

Hartley v Mayoh & Co

Court of Appeal

Citations: [1954] 1 QB 383; [1954] 1 WLR 355; [1954] 1 All ER 375; (1954) 118 JP 178; (1954) 98 SJ 107; [1954] CLY 2207.


The defendant owned a factory which caught fire. The fire brigade arrived and asked to be directed to the main electric switches to turn off the power supply. The defendant’s employees directed the fire fighters to the master switches, but not to two smaller supplementary switches which actually controlled all of the power to the building. The firefighters only turned off the master switches. Normally, this would not matter: the master switches would stop all electricity in building. However, due to the local electrical authority’s negligence, the leads in the switches were crossed and so the electricity was still active.

The claimant was the estate of a firefighter who was electrocuted to death by live wires while fighting the fire. The claimant sued the local authority in negligence and the defendant for breach of statutory duty. They relied on the defendant’s statutory duty to ensure that factories and electrical systems are safe under Regulations for the Generation, Transformation, Distribution and Use of Electrical Energy in Premises and Factories Act 1937.

At first instance, the judge had the local authority 90% responsible and the defendant 10% responsible. The defendant appealed.

  1. Was the claimant able to sue the defendant for damages under the Regulations or Factories Act?

The Court held in favour of the defendant. The duty under the Factories Act was designed to ensure that factory employees were not injured, so the deceased was not part of the class which the duty was designed to benefit. Meanwhile, the duty under the Regulations imposed a negligence standard (rather than the more common strict liability imposed by statutes), and in this case the defendant was not negligent.

This Case is Authority For…

To be able to sue a person for damages for breach of statutory duty, the claimant must be part of the class of persons which the statute was designed to protect.