Bolton v Stone [1951] AC 850

TORT OF NEGLIGENCE – FACTORS RELEVANT TO BREACH OF DUTY

Facts

The claimant was injured after a ball from a neighbouring cricket pitch flew into her outside her home. The cricket field was arranged such that it was protected by a 17-foot gap between the ground and the top of the surrounding fence. Balls had been known to get over the fence and land in people’s yards, but this was rare, making the strike which hit the claimant exceptional. The claimant sued the cricket club in the tort of negligence for her injuries.

Issue

Establishing the tort of negligence involves establishing that the defendant owed the claimant a duty of care, which they breached in a manner which caused the claimant recoverable harm. To establish a breach of any duty owed, the claimant must establish that the defendant failed to act as a reasonable person would in their position.

The issue in this case was what factors were relevant to determining how the reasonable person would behave, and therefore when the defendant would be in breach of their duty of care.

Held

The House of Lords held that the cricket club was not in breach of their duty. The following factors were held to be relevant to whether a defendant is in breach of their duty of care:

  • The likelihood of harm;
  • What precautions were practical for a defendant to take in terms of cost and effort;
  • Whether the defendant provides a socially-useful service.

In this case, the likelihood of the harm was very low, and erecting a fence any higher than the defendant had already done would be impractical. The cricket club was also providing a social useful service to the community. A reasonable cricket club would have, therefore, not behaved any differently.