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: NA v Nottinghamshire County Council [2016] QB 739. 

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

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?

2 / 6

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

3 / 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?

4 / 6

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

5 / 6

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

6 / 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?

Your score is