The Coroner Michael Oakley called for “better signage” along the coastline in Staithes , N Yorkshire , after there had been 55,000 rock falls in just 2 years.
The amount of rock falls in just a 2 year period should have alerted the Council to the peril / hazard to visitors to the area. Warning signs and if appropriate fencing off of dangerous areas to prevent and reduce danger to all visitors to the area should have been put in place.
However would this case succeed in a civil court of law?
There has been numerous cases on occupiers duty of care and duties under the 1957 and 1984 Occupiers Liability Acts as to whether a Public Body such as Local Authority has a duty of care to erect warning signs to highlight potential hazards such as rock fall / sharp bends in the road. These cases have failed following Court findings that there is no such duty of care.
Caparo Industries v Dickman set down a 3 stage test of i foreseeability ii proximity and iii it being fair, just and reasonable that such a duty be imposed ie policy.
Poppleton v Trustees of the Portsmouth Youth Activity Centre is of note which is a case involving a hidden danger which the claimant was unaware of. Where there is some genuine hidden danger it will usually suffice if it’s suitable marked as such.
The answer would appear that in some cases there is indeed a duty because of the implicit assumption of responsibility by the occupier and implicit reliance by the visitor.
There is a balance to be struck between the social value of an activity and the risk. Bolton v Stone held a cricket club where not negligent by not doing anything about the risk of someone being hit by a cricket ball.
Whilst the law on this issue is complex this is no doubt a tragic case where more possibly could have been done to safeguard and protect the public.