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Latimer v AEC Ltd


Freak Accident  This case deals with the position at common law relating to an "unprecedented, unexpected and freak hazard". Practicability of precautions.


 Court of Appeal

Act, Regulation or Reference:

Occupiers Liability Act 1957

Date: 1953


The plaintiff was employed by the defendant. On the afternoon of the day of the accident, an exceptionally heavy rainstorm had flooded the whole of the defendant's premises. Oil, which normally ran in covered channels in the floor of the building, rose to the surface and when the water drained away, left an oily film on the floor. The defendants took measures to clean away the oil, using all the sawdust available to them. The plaintiff came on duty with the night shift, unaware of the condition of the floor. While endeavouring to place a heavy barrel on a trolley, his foot slipped on the still oily surface, he fell on his back, and the barrel crushed his left ankle. The trial judge found a breach of common law duty. The Court of Appeal reversed this decision.

The Decision

The reasonable employer had to make a decision whether or not to shut the factory down and totally eliminate the risk. The employer took every step that reasonably could have been taken in the circumstances and in so doing had negated any possible allegation of negligence.
A defendant does not have to totally eliminate the risk but must do as much as the reasonable person would do in the circumstances.


This case deals with the position at common law relating to an "unprecedented and freak hazard". Where, for example, a means of access becomes hazardous due to snow or ice, it may not be reasonably practicable to take immediate steps to do something about it and a "temporary" delay may be expected. However, there must be reasonable attempts to deal with the problem. The Court also ruled that the definition of "maintained", used in the Factories Act 1961, was clearly directed to the state of the construction of the floor and not its temporary and unexpected condition or obstructions on its surface. As a result Latimer lost his claim.