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Why Haley v London Electricity Board is important

In Haley v London Electricity Board (LEB), the Court again used the likelihood of harm to determine the expected standard of the reasonable person. Unlike in Bolton v Stone, the Court concluded that the defendant had not taken reasonable care.

Facts

The London Electricity Board dug a trench in the pavement to conduct maintenance underground. The workers placed a punner handle in front of the trench.

Haley was a blind man. He walked along the pavement on his own using his stick. His stick missed the punner handle and he fell into the trench. Haley knocked his head and consequently became deaf.

Claim

Haley brought an action against the London Electricity Board in the tort of negligence.

Issue

Whether the LEB was negligent, as in did not meet the standard expected of the reasonable person. There was no suggestion that the claimant had not used his stick properly, or acted in any way unusual or unreasonably.

Held

The LEB had failed to take reasonable care. The reasonable person would have contemplated that a blind person would walk past the trench and would have done more to make sure they were not injured.

Reasoning

The House of Lords concluded that the defendant had done enough to warn ordinary persons of the dangerous trench. In contrast, the House concluded that the LEB had not done enough to warn blind persons.

Lord Reid said:

the evidence shows that an obstacle attached to a heavy weight and only nine inches above the ground may well escape detection by a blind man’s stick and is for him a trap rather than a warning.

The case therefore fell on whether the reasonable person would have in mind a blind person when putting protection around the trench. The House concluded that it was likely, or at least foreseeable, that a blind person would walk past a trench, and would have contemplated this when putting protection around the fence.

In the words of Lord Reid:

In deciding what is reasonably foreseeable one must have regard to common knowledge. We are all accustomed to meeting blind people walking alone with their white sticks on city pavements. … There is evidence in this case about the number of blind people in London and it appears from Government publications that the proportion in the whole country is near one in 500. By no means all are sufficiently skilled or confident to venture out alone but the number who habitually do so must be very large. I find it quite impossible to say that it is not reasonably foreseeable that a blind person may pass along a particular pavement on a particular day.

Because the LEB failed to do this, the House held they failed to take reasonable care. The reasonable person would have put more permanent fencing around the trench which would be detectable by the stick of a blind person.

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Bolton v Stone

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