Tort: Non-Delegable Duties

Non-Delegable Duties

What is a Non-Delegable Duty?

Non-delegable duties allow the defendant to be liable for the actions of a third-party despite not being negligent themselves. The other way a defendant can be liable for someone else’s actions is vicarious liability.

When Will a Non-Delegable Duty Be Owed?

The law on non-delegable duties was previously diffuse and not well-united. The Supreme Court in  Woodland v Essex County Council [2013] UKSC 66 recently unified the law and created a general test to determine whether there is a non-delegable duty, though they did not rule out the creation of new non-delegable duties in future. 

A non-delegable duty arises and is breached where:

  1. The claimant is in a relationship of dependence on the defendant;
  2. That relationship existed prior to the tort and was independent of the tort;
  3. As part of the relationship, the claimant was under the defendant’s custody or care, and the defendant assumed responsibility to protect the claimant from harm;
  4. The claimant had no control over how the defendant protected them;
  5. The defendant delegated the exercise of their responsibility to protect the claimant to a third-party;
  6. The third-party was negligent.

However, even when these criteria are met the courts might refuse to impose a duty if it is not fair, just and reasonable.

Common Examples of Non-Delegable Duties
Employer/Employees
Employee, shop worker

Employers owe their employees a non-delegable duty to provide a safe system of work: Paris v Stepney [1951] AC 367.

Guardians/Children
Teacher and children

Teachers and other people entrusted with supervising children owe those children a non-delegable duty of care: Woodland v Essex County Council [2013] UKSC 66.

Prisoners & Detainees
Prisoner climbing a fence

Prisons and immigration detention centres owe a duty of care to those detained by them: GB v Home Office [2015] EWHC 819 (QB).

Extra-Hazardous Activities

Historically, the law recognised a non-delegable duty to avoid causing harm in the performance of ‘extra-hazardous activities: Honeywill & Stein v Larkin Bros [1934] 1 KB 102. This duty has been controversial, however, and Lord Sumption in Woodland v Essex County Council [2013] UKSC 66 argued that it was arbitrary and might be abandoned in a future case. 

Fire Damage

It was also historically the case that occupiers were under a non-delegable duty to ensure that damage is not caused to another by reason of a fire being lit on his land: Balfour v Barty King [1957] QB 496. This duty was not mentioned in Woodland and so still appears to be good law.


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Liability for Third-Parties Quiz

Test yourself on the principles which determine when a defendant will be liable for actions of a third-party: non-delegable duties and vicarious liability.

1 / 6

What factors indicate that there is a relationship 'akin to employment' between the defendant and primary tortfeasor for the purposes of vicarious liability?

2 / 6

For the purposes of vicarious liability, what two factors indicate that the tort is not within the field of activities entrusted or assigned to the primary tortfeasor by the defendant?

3 / 6

What two elements must the claimant show to demonstrate that the defendant is vicariously liable for the torts of another?

4 / 6

For the purposes of vicarious liability, what four factors indicate that the tort is within the field of activities entrusted or assigned to the primary tortfeasor by the defendant?

5 / 6

Which two elements must be demonstrated to show that there is a 'close connection' between the tort and the defendant's relationship with the primary tortfeasor for the purposes of vicarious liability?

6 / 6

What five matters must the claimant prove to show that the defendant owes them a non-delegable duty of care?

Your score is