Natural Dangers and A Duty of Care

The tragic death of two young men at Prestonhill Quarry, Inverkeithing in the last year has left people asking questions about the duty of care owed to those opting to visit such natural features.

The disused quarry has been a popular spot for local teenagers. The teenager who died in August 2014 lost his life while allegedly taking part in a practice known as 'tombstoning', an activity where people jump feet-first off a cliff into shallow water. The most recent death occurred on Thursday 18 June 2015.

A petition has now been circulated to secure the quarry and prevent against future deaths, but what duty of care do the owners owe to members of the public visiting the quarry?

The quarry would be described as an obvious feature of the landscape. The issue of such obvious features of the environment has been dealt with in recent caselaw. In terms of the Occupiers Liability (Scotland) Act 1960, an "Occupier" has a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent injury to visitors by dangers on their premises. However, there is no duty on the occupier to protect against natural phenomena, which present obvious dangers, in relation to people who might be present or nearby to those situations unless those dangers pose special risk such as unusual or unseen sources of danger. It is difficult to imagine in what circumstances a Court would find the quarry to have unusual or unseen sources of danger. The danger posed by such a feature is an obvious one and an occupier is not expected to provide protection against obvious dangers such as lakes or cliffs.

At the time of the first death in August 2014, the police conducted a safety assessment of the quarry and found there were steps needed to be taken. The quarry is privately owned. Little is known about what precautions, if any, had been taken by the owners of the quarry or what remedies had been suggested at the quarry.

A claimant in England raised an action against a local authority after he sustained serious spinal injuries when he jumped into a lake within a local park. Like Prestonhill Quarry, it was an extremely popular venue. However in contrast, the lake in England permitted yachting, sub-aqua diving and other regulated activities, but swimming and diving were not. His claim was rejected as it was held his injury had arisen not from any danger due to the state of the premises or to things done or omitted to be done on them but from the claimant's own misjudgement attempting to dive in too shallow water. Such a risk had not been a risk giving rise to any duty on the local authority, nor was it a risk from which the local authority would have been expected to protect the claimant. The position in England clearly mirrors the Scottish courts decisions on natural hazards.

For further information, contact Stephanie Watson on 01382 346276 or swatson@thorntons-law.co.uk. Alternatively, contact the Personal Injury Team on 01382 229111 who will be pleased to assist further.

Categories: Personal Injury

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