Sayers v Harlow Urban District Council

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Last modified: 07/03/18 Author: In-house law team

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Sayers v Harlow Urban DC

[1958] 1 WLR 623; [1958] 2 All ER 342;

(1958) 122 JP 351; (1958) 102 SJ 419



The plaintiff visited a public lavatory, owned by the defendant – a local authority. She locked the door, but when she tried to get out, she could not as the lock was stuck. The plaintiff unsuccessfully tried to attract attention for 15 minutes. Then she decided that she could get out of the lavatory by climbing over the door. To do this, she stood with one foot on the toilet seat and the other on the toilet roll holder, whilst holding onto the door and a pipe with her hands. The plaintiff realised that this method of escape was not possible. On climbing down, the plaintiff again placed some weight on the toilet roll holder, which rotated and she fell to the ground, sustaining injury. The plaintiff sued the local authority for negligence. The county court held that the defendants were negligent, but dismissed the plaintiff’s claim on grounds that the damage to the plaintiff was too remote. She appealed to the Court of Appeal.


Were the attempts of the plaintiff to climb over the door of the toilet cubicle natural and probable consequences of the negligent act of the defendant?


The appeal was allowed.

(1) In determining the remoteness of the damage, the court needs to balance the risks taken by the plaintiff against the consequences of the defendants’ breach of duty.

(2) The plaintiff did not take a risk that was disproportionate to the necessities of her situation. Therefore, the injury that the plaintiff sustained was not too remote from the negligent act of the local authority.

(3) However, on the facts, the plaintiff is guilty of contributory negligence, as having realised that she could not climb over the door, she should have appreciated that she could not rely entirely on the toilet roll holder to support her weight. Hence, she was 25 per cent to blame for the accident.

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