Watt v Hertfordshire County Council – 1954

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Watt v Hertfordshire County Council [1954] 1 WLR 835



The claimant worked for the fire department, and was answering a call involving a woman trapped under a lorry near the fire station. This involved moving a heavy piece of equipment to the scene to lift the lorry. The usual vehicle which transported the equipment was unavailable, and the claimant’s superior ordered him to place it unsecured on the back of a truck instead. To avoid it falling off the truck, the claimant was to hold onto it during the journey. The claimant was injured when the truck braked at a red light and the equipment fell over. The claimant sued his employers for negligence.


Establishing the tort of negligence involves establishing that the defendant breached their duty of care to the claimant. To establish breach, the claimant must establish that the defendant failed to act as a reasonable person would in their position. This is known as the standard of care.

The issue in this case was what factors could be taken into account when assessing the standard of care: the claimant argued that the only relevant factor was the cost of preventing the harm.


The Court of Appeal held the defendant non-liable.

The Court of Appeal held that the object which the defendant was trying to achieve was a relevant factor when determining the standard of care, and not just the cost of taking precautions against the harm. It concluded that the emergency situation, combined with the high degree of social utility in ensuring a woman’s life was saved and the fact that the risk of injury was not that high, meant that the fire department could not be expected to take precautions against harming the claimant.

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