Published: Wed, 07 Mar 2018
Smith v Littlewoods Organisation Ltd  UKHL 18;
 AC 241;
 2 WLR 480;  1 All ER 710
NEGLIGENCE, DUTY OF CARE, VANDALISM, FIRE STARTED BY VANDALS, OCCUPIERS OF THE ADJOINING PREMISES, LIABILITY OF OCCUPIERS
The defendant purchased a disused cinema with the intention of turning it into a supermarket. Five weeks after the defendant entered the building for the first time, it was set on fire by intruders and destroyed. As a result, the adjacent buildings were also affected and damaged. The cinema building was a target to vandals and children who often played there, but the defendants had had no knowledge of previous attempts to start fire at the cinema buildings. The owners of the adjacent buildings brought an action for negligence against the defendants on grounds that they failed to take reasonable care for the safety of the buildings by not keeping the cinema lockfast, making regular inspections and employing a caretaker. The Court of Session (Outer House) ruled in favour of the plaintiffs. The Court of Session (Inner House) reversed the decision of the Outer House and the plaintiffs appealed to the House of Lords.
Does the occupier of a property owe a duty of care to the adjoining occupiers in respect of acts of trespass on his property resulting in damage to the adjoining properties?
The appeals were dismissed
(1) Whether an occupier of a property owe a duty of care to the adjoining occupiers in respect of acts of trespass on his property resulting in damage to the adjoining properties depends on the circumstances of the case and socially accepted standards of behaviour.
(2) Cases where a duty of care exists are likely to be rare.
(3) The defendants were not aware of previous attempts of vandals to start fire and as such, the building did not present an obvious fire risk, so the defendants were not under any duty to anticipate the possibility of fire and take measures to prevent the entry of vandals.
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