Negligence Problem Question - a fire at Amber Valley School damages Mark's property.

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         From the above statement, Mark has suffered losses such as property damage, consequential economic loss, and loss of profits. Mark may have claims in tort of negligence. Negligence operates as a means to compensate a claimant for foreseeable losses caused by a defendant’s breach of duty of care. In order to win his claims, he must prove four elements on preponderance of evidence and on balance of probabilities:

  1. The party owed Mark a duty of care
  2. The party breached such duty
  3. The party’s breach caused the damage which he suffered and;
  4. Mark must show that the damage suffered is not too remote from the party’s negligence.

      I will examine whether Mark will have any successful claims towards the relevant parties based on the elements listed.


                Amber Borough Council (ABC) is the local education authority who owns Amber Valley Primary School; the school was set fire by a group of youths and caused damage to the neighbouring property including Mark’s shop. The issue is whether ABC owes duty of care to Mark. In order to claim the damage, we shall follow the three-fold test laid down by the House of Lords in Caparo Industries plc v Dickman.

“(i) There must be reasonable foreseeability, (ii) a close and direct relationship of ‘proximity’ between the parties and; (iii) it must be fair, just and reasonable to impose liability,”

        First issue is whether ABC owes duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent youths obtaining unlawful access to the school. It depends on whether the occurrence of such behaviour was reasonably foreseeable by ABC. The leading case, Smith v Littlewoods Organisation Ltd has similar facts with the above statement. According to the Law lords, it is a matter of knowledge. Where the defendant has knowledge or means of knowledge that a third party has created or is creating the risk of fire, or indeed has started a fire, on his premises, and then fails to take reasonable steps to prevent any such fire from damaging neighbouring property, he may be liable for the damage. In Smith, it was held that the occurrence of such behaviour was not reasonably foreseeable by Littlewoods because they had no knowledge of the wrongdoings at all as the observers did not inform either Littlewoods or the police. However, on the facts, it should have been reasonably foreseeable by ABC because they had known of the activities of the youths as the local residents had reported that.

        The next issue is whether ABC owes to Mark a duty to exercise reasonable care to ensure that the school was not and did not become a source of danger to neighbouring property. According to Lord Brandon of OakBrook in Smith, Littlewoods owed such duty and they failed to take exercise reasonable care. On the facts, ABC may argue that they had place fencing around the site as precautions to avoid such danger. However, since there are a number of occasions that the youths had been breaking into the school, the fencing might not be sufficient and cannot be considered as a reasonable care. Perhaps, hiring a 24-hour security guard to supervise would be sufficient, but that would be intolerable and unfair to impose such duty to ABC. Bearing in mind that even if the result is foreseeable, an ordinarily careful man does not take precautions against every foreseeable risk, life would be almost impossible if he were to attempt to take precautions against every risk.

                 Next issue arises from a relationship of proximity between the parties. Lord Goff added that no such general duty exists even between those who are neighbours. As a general rule, individuals are not subjected to any general duty to protect their ‘neighbours’ from others’ tortious conduct outside the circumstances in which the principles of vicarious liability operate, even if the loss is foreseeable and preventable. So, there is no special relationship between ABC and the youths, and ABC has no duty to safeguard Mark’s property from the wrongful conduct of the youths. It is duty owed by those persons who supervised and had control over the youths. Since ABC had no control over the youths’ actions and there was nothing inherently dangerous about an empty school, it is not fair, just and reasonable to impose duty to prevent harm being caused by a source of danger which has arisen without his fault.

            Mere foreseeability of damage was not sufficient to impose duty of care on ABC, as it does not satisfy the ‘proximity’, ABC is not likely to be liable. 


         On the facts, Justin and Jason (J&J) who were under duty to supervise the youths, had gone for a cigarette break and left the unsupervised youths at the time caused the damage to premises. It is an omission that defendants failed to control against the act of the third party, and caused damage to the claimant’s property. This omission is found to be negligent.

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Do they owe duty of care to Mark?

          The Caparo test has to be satisfied on this issue. It might be reasonable to foresee that the youths would cause danger to others if J&J left the youths unsupervised. Once they had taken control of the youths’ actions, they would be in special relationship with the youths as to satisfy the requisite element of proximity. Indirectly speaking, they may have an implied assumption of responsibility to prevent Mark’s property from being harmed by the youths. Where there is foreseeability and existing relationship with the youths that ...

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