Goldman v Hargrave [1967] 1 AC 645

Key points

  • The principles of this case are relevant to both the torts of negligence and nuisance as they overlap in omissions cases.
  • A person can be liable in negligence and nuisance for an omission where he fails to remove a source of danger that he knew or ought to know of and could foresee the harm of not doing so.
  • The individual circumstances of the defendant can be taken into account in such cases, as an exception to the objective standard of care.
  • Liability for omission to remove a nuisance pursuant to the principle in Sedleigh-Denfield extends to nuisances created by nature.


  • A tree on D’s land was struck by lightning and set on fire.
  • D chopped the tree down did not douse it with water, preferring to let it burn itself out.
  • The fire later spread to C’s land.
  • C sued D for negligence and nuisance.

Held (Privy Council)

  • D was negligent for failing to remove the hazard and is thus liable in both nuisance and negligence.

Lord Wilberforce

Duty of care

  • The tort of nuisance covers a wide variety of situations, in some of which negligence plays no part, in others of which it is decisive; this case falls within the category of nuisance cases in which negligence must be proved: p. 656C
  • Sedleigh-Denfield supports the existence of a general duty upon occupiers in relation to hazards occurring on their land, whether natural or man-made: p. 662
  • The existence of a duty must be based upon knowledge of the hazard, ability to foresee the consequences of not checking or removing it, and the ability to abate it: p. 663A

Standard of care

  • The law must take into account of the fact that the occupier on whom the duty is cast has, ex hypothesi, had this hazard thrust upon him through no seeking or fault of his own
  • The standard of care required ought to be what is reasonable in the individual circumstances
  • The physical ability and financial resources of the occupier needs to be balanced against the magnitude of the hazard
  • In the present case, where the hazard could have been removed with little effort and no expenditure, well within the capacity of D: p. 663 – 664


  • The judgment by Lord Wilberforce drew no distinction between liability in negligence and nuisance and thus what was held in relation to the standard of care should apply to negligence as well.
Negligence cases Nuisance cases
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