Latimer v AEC Ltd
House of Lords
Citations:  AC 643;  3 WLR 259;  2 All ER 449; (1953) 117 JP 387; (1953) 97 SJ 486;  CLY 2513.
The claimant was a workman at the defendant’s factory. An unusually severe storm flooded the factory floor. This caused an chemical contained in channels in the floor to leak out. When the water levels went down, the chemicals covered the floor, making it highly slippery. To deal with this, the defendant ordered that the factory’s supplies of sawdust be laid on the floor. However, there was not enough sawdust to cover the whole area. The claimant slipped while working in an untreated area and was injured.
The claimant sued the defendant in negligence. The defendant argued that they should not be liable, because the only way they could have made the factory safer was by shutting it down entirely.
- Was the defendant in breach of the duty of care owed to the claimant?
The House of Lords held in favour of the defendant. They were not in breach of their duty to the claimant, as they were not required to take excessive measures such as shutting down the factory. The defendant had done all they could reasonably do.
This Case is Authority For…
The cost of taking precautions against the risk of harm is relevant when determining whether the defendant has breached their duty of care.
Lord Tucker stressed that this is one factor of many. The failure to take drastic steps to prevent harm might be negligent if the risk and seriousness of the potential harm is high enough.
The Lords also discussed the proper interpretation of the Factories Act 1937. This has since been consolidated into the Factories Act 1961. Section 25 of the 1937 Act (now section 28 of the 1961 Act) required floors to ‘be of sound construction and properly maintained’. The Lords held that a transient condition (such as being temporarily wet or oily) did not make a floor ‘unsound’ or improperly maintained. However, they thought that such conditions might make the floor improperly maintained if they were allowed to persist for a significant length of time. It is a matter of fact and degree.