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Occupier's Liability and Res Ipsa Loquitur in the English Law of Tort

Case study

Ward V. Tesco Stores Ltd.

Introduction

Ward V. Tesco is one of the most important cases in the English law of tort for the purpose of setting precedent. Colloquially known as the “trip and slip” case, the case instituted by Ms. Ward might seem to be a simple case of negligence but in layers, this case provides an in depth study to the core of the occupier’s liability that coined the terms of res ipsa loquitor in the history of English Law of Tort herein.. Herein, we have critically analysed the case by deducting the possible legal facts, radio decidendi, obiter dicta followed by the famous decision held by Lord Lawton and Lord Megan.

Summary of the Facts

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Ms. Ward, being a regular customer of the supermarket chain namely Tesco Stores Ltd., visited one of the stores situated in Smithdown Road, Liverpool. The claimant or Ms. Ward, while shopping in the food aisle of the store, slipped on pink yogurt which was spilled on the floor beforehand. Ms. Ward having expected a standard amount of sanitization to be instituted inside the store, had no reasonable ground to believe that such spillage can occur and thus suffered minor injuries. The store manager was called in and the matter was amicably solved thereafter.

However, a few weeks later, Ms. Ward again visited the same store of Tesco Stores and while she was concentrating on her course of business, she again noticed a spillage of orange squash on the floor. After watching the spillage to be there on the floor for more than an hour and during such a long time no stuff of the store took care of the spillage and cleaned it as well. Thus, Ms. Ward filed a suit of negligence.

In response to such suit, the defendant denied the liability and also stated that they have strict policies regarding the sanitization of the floor of the store and the stuffs of the store also follow a strict rule of sanitization that states that they have to take care of any spillage as soon as it has been noticed. However, the defendant failed to provide any proof or evidence regarding the particular floor to be cleaned during the spillage and the accident that occurred to the claimant herein and the claimant was successful in suing the defendant under negligence.

Explanation of the Legal Issues involved

The possible legal issues that were involved in this case have been described as follows:

1. The Act of Negligence under the English Law of Tort

According to the English Law of Tort, an act of negligence can be defined as the breach of duty of care owed by one party to another. Thus, in order to fulfill the act of negligence, there should exist three elements which establish the case in court namely, (i) An instituted or implied duty of care (ii) Breach of such duty of care owed towards the other person iii) Reasonable or casual link established between the duty of care and damages caused due to such breach of the duty of care herein.

2. The Occupier’s Liability Act of 1957

The Occupier’s Liability Act of 1957, s 1(1) provides with the provision that when any visitor visits a particular place or property or land, in such circumstances, the owner of that particular property or land shall owe the visitor a reasonable duty of care which is implied in nature.

3. The Doctrine of res ipsa loquitur

The meaning of the abovementioned doctrine is “the things that speak for itself”. Thus, according to this doctrine, when there is a duty of care is implied, the causation of any damage occurred and the breach of such duty of care shall exist and apply before the court of law and the person who owed such duty of care shall be held liable.

Judgment

When this case was suited before the trial court, Ms. Ward was awarded damage to the tune of 137.50 Pound to which Tesco Stores Ltd. appealed against the abovementioned judgment before the Court of Appeal. In this case of appeal, it was held by a majority that in the event of such spillage where the claimant has suffered minor injuries, the burden of proving that there was no such breach in the action of duty of care is on the part of the defendant i.e. Tesco Stores and the defendant shall produce reasonable evidence in respect to whether the particular floor was cleaned on that day or not. Thus, it was held that Ms. Ward can hold Tesco Stores liable for the act of negligence and thus Tesco is liable to pay her appropriate damages under the act of negligence, occupier’s liability and also, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur as well.

Referring the case of Richards v. WF White & Co, as the particular store was under the management of the Tesco Stores Ltd., the defendant shall be liable ipso facto.

The Ratio Decidendi

The Ratio Decidendi of the case as has been deduced from the abovementioned judgment is as follows –

1. That the defendant had an absolute duty of care towards the claimant, Ms. Ward and they shall be held liable for the spillage and the accident that occurred afterward.

2. The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur shall be applied as the spillage of the pink yogurt herein speaks for itself that there has been a breach of duty of care and it also points towards the acts of negligence on the part of the defendant herein.

Also, another important ratio decidendi of the case as has been enumerated by Megan LJ that “the onus of proof of defendant is of evidential nature and not probative”.

Obiter Dicta

The abovementioned case was held in 2:1 where Omrod LJ held a different view as Obiter Dicta of the case. Omrod LJ was of the view that the defendant may not completely have the knowledge of the spillage and to hold defendant liable for such act is arbitrary and random. The spillage herein does not ipso facto prove that the defendant failed to take reasonable care towards Ms. Ward herein.

The Significance of the case

This instant case has set the precedent of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur and that evidential proof is the burden of the defendant herein and not the claimant. Famously known as the ‘pink yogurt case’, this case has set an important precedent in the history of English Law of Tort which provided the courts of England with a series of ‘Ward Type’ case.

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Conclusion

Thus, after thoroughly discussing the abovementioned case herein, it shall be concluded that the case of Ward v. Tesco did not only provide a great example towards actionable negligence but it has also provided a great deal of clarity towards the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur and given importance towards the Occupier’s Liability Act, 1957 as well. With the imposition of this case, stricter policies were imposed towards taking care of the visitors in a store or a property herein.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Article

Negligence claims and res ipsa loquitur (2011), Croner –I, available at https://app.croneri.co.uk/feature-articles/negligence-claims-and-res-ipsa-loquitur, accessed on 20th May, 2021

Legislation

The Occupier’s Liability Act, 1957 (1957), chapter I, section 1(1)

Case lists

Donoghue v Stevenson(1932), UKHL 100

Nettleship v Weston, (1971) 2 QB 691

Overseas Tankship (UK) Ltd v The Miller Steamship Co, [1966] UKPC 10

Richards v. WF White & Co. [1957] 1

Smith v Leech Brain & Co [1962] 2 QB 405


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