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   Case summaries      Wheat v Lacon


Wheat v Lacon [1966] AC 552     House of Lords
The claimant and her family stayed at a public house, The Golfer’s Arms in Great Yarmouth, for a holiday. Unfortunately her husband died when he fell down the stairs and hit his head. The stairs were steep and narrow. The handrail stopped two steps from the bottom of the stairs and there was no bulb in the light. The claimant brought an action under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 against the Brewery company, Lacon, which owned the freehold of The Golfer’s Arms and against the Managers of the Pub, Mr & Mrs Richardson, who occupied the pub as a licensee.


Both the Richardsons and Lacon were occupiers for the purposes of the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 and therefore both owed the common duty of care. It is possible to have more than one occupier. The question of whether a particular person is an occupier under the Act is whether they have occupational control. Lacon had only granted a license to the Richardsons and had retained the right to repair which gave them a sufficient degree of control. There is no requirement of physical occupation. However, it was found that Lacon was not in breach of duty since the provision of light bulbs would have been part of the day to day management duties of the Richardsons. Since the Richardsons were not party to the appeal the claimant’s action failed.

Lord Denning:

“wherever a person has a sufficient degree of control over premises that he ought to realise that any failure on his part to use care may result in injury to a person coming lawfully there, then he is an " occupier " and the person coming lawfully there is his " visitor ": and the " occupier " is under a duty to his " visitor " to use reasonable care. In order to be an " occupier " it is not necessary for a person to have entire control over the premises. He need not have exclusive occupation. Suffice it that he has some degree of control. He may share the control with others. Two or more may be " occupiers ". And whenever this happens, each is under a duty to use care towards persons coming lawfully on to the premises, dependent on his degree of control. If each fails in his duty, each is liable to a visitor who is injured in consequence of his failure, but each may have a claim to contribution from the other.”

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