Occupiers’ liability for equipment
The claimant was injured in an accident at a leisure centre while on an uphill climbing machine – the resistance of the machine gave in causing the claimant to fall backwards. The claim was brought against the leisure centre and also the seller and maintenance provider of the equipment.
There was a maintenance service agreement in respect of the machines but, before completion of the agreement, an engineer from the maintenance provider had carried out a pre contractual inspection. No defects had been found and the contract was entered.
The Judge at first instance held that both the leisure centre and the maintenance provider were to blame. He found that the leisure centre had been in breach of an implied term of contract between it and the claimant, since the claimant was a paying entrant to the leisure centre. He further found that the leisure centre had been in breach of its common law duty of care under the Occupiers Liability Act by failing to put into place a system of checking the safety of the equipment in the gymnasium.
The Court of Appeal overturned the decision against the leisure centre saying that it was clear that Section 5 of the Occupiers Liability Act was meant to do away with the previous common law distinction between an occupier’s liability towards a non-contractual visitor and a visitor entering under a contract. The Judge had been wrong to draw a distinction between the leisure centre’s liability as an occupier to the claimant as a contracting party, and as an occupier under the Act.
Furthermore, the leisure centre was entitled to rely upon the maintenance provider to perform a proper inspection of the machine, to ensure that it was in good order; they were entitled to consider that they had employed experts and had taken proper steps when entering into the service contract to meet their duties under the Occupiers Liability Act. There was nothing in the evidence to support a finding that they could be criticised for failing to inspect or maintain the machines or that they should have been aware of the defect.