Law Slater V Clay Cross Co Ltd

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COURT OF APPEAL

Slater v Clay Cross Co Ltd [1956] 2 QB 264

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17 May 1956

DENNING LJ:

In Derbyshire there has been for well over a hundred years a railway line owned by the defendants. We were told that George Stephenson himself made it. The defendants use it so as to carry limestone from their quarries at Crich down to Ambergate. It is a small gauge line, only three feet, three inches wide, and is 2 1/2 miles long. On that small line there are two tunnels. One of them, with which we are concerned, is only about eight feet or nine feet high, and it is just sixty-six yards long. On 12 February 1953, the plaintiff was walking through the tunnel when she suddenly realised that a train was coming up behind her. She got down on to the ground to seek what safety she could, but unfortunately the train ran over one of her legs and cut it off. She now claims damages against the defendants saying that it was their fault.

If she were a trespasser on this railway, she would, of course, have no cause of action; but she says that the defendants had acquiesced for years in the villagers of Crich walking along this railway down to Ambergate and back. It was a short cut for them. The defendants had done nothing at all to show that they resented the villagers using it, and the villagers had in fact used it for years. The judge has found, and I think there can be no doubt, that she was what we call in law a licensee - not a trespasser who was unlawfully there, but a person who was permitted and allowed by the owners to be there - not for any matter in which they had an interest, but only for her own purposes.

It has been urged before us that, as she was licensee and not an invitee, the duty of the defendants and their servants is greatly affected: and that it is much less on that account. The judge did not take that view; he held that there was a duty on the defendants’ servants to take reasonable care in their operations, and he held that they had not taken that care. He found that instructions had been given to the drivers that on entering the tunnel they were to keep their heads down, they were to blow the whistle, and they were to slow down. On this particular occasion those instructions were not observed. It was in the winter. They had not been able to quarry fresh limestone up at Crish; they were using the existing stock; and, indeed, instead of having the train pulled by one little steam engine, they had a diesel engine on too.

On coming up from Ambergate, the steam engine was in front and the diesel engine pushing behind. In the ordinary way, if the steam engine had been on its own, being the only engine pulling, the driver would have stopped before he entered the tunnel, and he would have whistled. On this occasion, the driver of the steam engine did not keep it pulling because he wanted to save up the steam for the gradient beyond but the diesel engine went on pushing behind. So the train did not stop at the entrance to the tunnel, the steam engine did not whistle at the entrance to the tunnel, and it did not slow down to a walking pace or stop. It went on at a pace which the judge put at eight miles an hour through the tunnel. He found that in the circumstances it was going too fast, and that it failed to whistle; and that was negligence on the part of the driver for which the defendants were responsible. It seems to me that the judge’s finding on that point cannot be disturbed.

Counsel for the defendants stressed the fact that the plaintiff was only a licensee and urged that this was on special significance. I do not think so … The duty of the occupier is nowadays simply to take reasonable care to see that the premises are reasonably safe for people lawfully coming on to them: and it makes no difference whether they are invitees or licensees. At any rate, the distinction has no relevance to cases such as the present where current operations are being carried out on the land.

If a landowner is...
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