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Carmarthenshire County Council v Lewis [1955] AC 549

The liability of a local authority for road users injured whilst trying to avoid hitting a young child who had escaped from school

Facts

The claimant in this matter was the wife of a lorry driver killed whilst trying to avoid a child in the road. The child was at school when his teacher, intending to take him out of school, prepared him to leave. However, before she was able to take the child, another child fell and was hurt. Whilst the teacher was attending to the hurt child and was distracted, the other child wandered out of the school building and through an open gate onto the road. On seeing the child, the claimant’s husband swerved his lorry in order to avoid hitting the child, crashed into a telegraph pole and was killed. Negligence was found against the teacher at first instance and was upheld on appeal. The council appealed to the House of Lords.

Issue

The issue in this context was whether a local authority had a duty of care to road users to the extent that required it to prevent young children in its care from straying onto the road.

Held

It was held that the duty owed by the teacher was that of a careful parent and, in the circumstances, the teacher had acted in a manner consistent with this duty. The accident was not found to be the teacher’s fault. However, the fact that the child was able to leave the school so easily as soon as the teacher’s back was turned indicated that there was a lack of proper precautions in place to avoid this happening. In the absence of a proper explanation for the child’s presence on the road, the council must be held liable for the cause of the crash. The council had a duty, not only to the child, but also to road users affected by the child’s actions. The appeal was dismissed. 


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