Why Bolton v Stone is important
In Bolton v Stone, the Court considered the likelihood of harm when deciding the expected standard of the reasonable person.
The claimant, Ms Stone, was standing on the road outside her house. The road was adjacent to a cricket ground. There was an uphill slope from the wicket to the road. Moreover, the club had erected a 7 foot fence to reduce the risk of a ball being hit into the road.
On this occasion, a ball was hit out of the ground. The ball hit Ms Stone and injured her. The Judge accepted that this was an exceptional hit, although he also accepted that the club knew such a hit was possible.
Ms Stone brought an action against the committee and members of the cricket club. She argued that the club failed to take reasonable care to protect persons on the road.
The House of Lords was asked ‘what degree of care must the club exercise to escape liability for anything which may occur as a result of this intended use of the field?
The claim was unanimously dismissed by the House of Lords. The House held that the club had not failed to take reasonable care.
The House of Lords considered what injuries were foreseeable. They concluded that the risk of harm to persons on the road was very small. In such circumstances, they held that the club had not failed to take reasonable care by not doing more to protect users on the road.
An important part of the House of Lords’ decision was that there is always a certain amount of risk, and the Courts should avoid imposing liability whenever injury occurs. For example, Lord Normand concluded that the only way to avoid the risk of injury was to stop playing cricket at the ground altogether, something he was not prepared to order.
In the words of Lord Potter:
It is not enough that the event should be such as can reasonably be foreseen; the further result that injury is likely to follow must also be such as a reasonable man would contemplate, before he can be convicted of actionable negligence. Nor is the remote possibility of injury occurring enough; there must be sufficient probability to lead a reasonable man to anticipate it. The existence of some risk is an ordinary incident of life, even when all due care has been, as it must be, taken. [our emphasis]
It should be noted that Lord Reid considered that Bolton v Stone was a border-line case. Given the likelihood of harm, the club were not far away from needing to do more to protect road-users.