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Why Latimer v AEC Ltd is important

In Latimer v AEC Ltd, the HL considered the cost of taking precautions when deciding what the reasonable person would have done. Where the cost of precaution is higher, the risk to others must be higher before the reasonable person would pay to take the costlier precaution.

Facts

The claimant, Latimer, worked in a factory. The factory floor was flooded by a severe storm. The defendants spread all the sawdust they had to make the floor less slippery, but because of the severity of the storm they did not have enough sawdust to cover the whole floor and patches remained slippery.

Whilst pushing a trolley across the floor, the claimant slipped on an untreated area of floor and was injured.

Claim

Inter alia, the claimant brought an action against the defendant in the tort of negligence. Latimer argued that a reasonable person in the defendant’s position would have shut down the factory, or at least the sections still slippery.

Issue

Whether the defendant had failed to take reasonable care.

Held

The defendant did not fail to take reasonable care, and so was not liable to the claimant in the tort of negligence.

Reasoning

The HL concluded that a reasonable person in the defendant’s shoes would not have shut down the works or factory.

Their Lordships noted that shutting down the factory was a very serious response, and would be very costly. Therefore, the risk of harm being done had to be greater before the reasonable person would shut the factory. On the facts of this case, as the risk of harm was not high enough and so the defendant had not breached their duty of care.

Lord Porter:

The seriousness of shutting down the works and sending the night shift home and the importance of carrying on the work upon which the factory was engaged are all additional elements for con­sideration and without adequate information on these matters it is impossible to express any final opinion.

Lord Tucker:

The only question was: Has it been proved that the floor was so slippery that, remedial steps not being possible, a reasonably prudent employer would have closed down the factory rather than allow his employees to run the risks involved in continuing work? The learned Judge does not seem to me to have posed this question to himself, nor was there sufficient evidence before him to have justified an affirmative answer.

The absence of any evidence that anyone in the factory during the after­noon or night-shift, other than the Plaintiff, slipped or experienced any difficulty or that any complaint was made by or on behalf of the workers all points to the conclusion that the danger was in fact not such as to impose upon a reasonable employer the obligation placed upon the Respon­dents by the trial Judge.

The HL also held that the defendant was not in breach of their statutory duty, pursuant to s.25(1) Factories Act 1937.

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