West Sussex County Council v Pierce – Case Summary

West Sussex County Council v Pierce

Court of Appeal

Citations: [2013] EWCA Civ 1230.


The defendant ran a school. The claimant was a nine-year-old child attending the school. There was a wall-mounted fountain in one of the school corridors. The claimant was fooling around near the fountain, spraying water at others. Another child swung a punch at him, and he ducked, hitting his arm under the fountain and injuring himself on an edge.

The claimant sued the defendant under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957. The defendant argued that the fountain was not unduly sharp to the touch and perfectly safe for normal use. Nevertheless, at trial the judge found they were liable because children could misuse the fountain and the defendant had failed to conduct a risk assessment. The defendant appealed.

  1. Was the trial judge correct to hold that the defendant was in breach of their statutory duty?

The Court of Appeal held in favour of the defendant. The mere fact that the fountain could be dangerous did not automatically make the defendant liable in the absence of a risk assessment. The trial judge should have instead considered whether, in light of how reasonably foreseeable the harm was, the school premises was safe for children. On the facts, the fountain was sufficiently safe.

This Case is Authority For…

Occupiers’ liability does not require the defendant to assess and safeguard against every possible risk on the premises.