Published: Wed, 07 Mar 2018
Ancell v McDermott  4 All ER 355;
 EWCA Civ 20; 159 LG Rev 389,  RTR 235,  11 LS Gaz R 46,  NLJR 363
NEGLIGENCE, DUTY OF CARE, HAZARD ON HIGHWAY, NO WARNING GIVEN TO ROAD USERS, POLICE AWARE OF THE HAZARD ON THE ROAD,
The first defendant, while driving his car, ran over an aluminum tube which had fallen from the fourth defendant’s truck, ruptured his fuel tank, leaving diesel on the road. The police officers – the second defendants, noticed the trail of diesel and followed it to the first defendant’s car. They notified another police force – the third defendants. The third defendants also noticed the diesel on the road and reported it to the Bedfordshire highways department. None of the defendants remained at the scene to warn the motorists of the danger. The first plaintiff’s wife, while driving, skid on the diesel trail and suffered a fatal collision. The first plaintiff and the second plaintiff were passengers in the car and were injured. They brought an action against the defendants for breach of duty and negligence. The police officers applied to strike out the claims against them. The Queen’s Bench dismissed their application. The defendants appealed to the Court of Appeal.
Are the police under a duty of care to protect road users from, or warn them of the hazards, discovered by the police while going about their duties on the highway?
The appeals were allowed and the action against the police officers was struck out.
(1) Following Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire  2 WLR 1049, the police are under no duty of care to protect road users from, or warn them of the hazards, discovered by the them while going about their duties on the highway.
(2) There was in these circumstances no special relationship between the plaintiffs and the police which gives rise to an exceptional duty to prevent harm from dangers created by another.
(3) An extreme scope of the duty of care would impose on the police potential liability of almost unlimited scope and it would be against public policy as it would divert police resources from the performance of ordinary policy duties.
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