Wheat v Lacon [1966] AC 552

Key point

  • This case defined an occupier for the purpose of occupiers liability as a person who had a sufficient degree of control over premises to put him under a duty of care towards those who came lawfully on to the premises (visitors)

Facts

  • Ds were brewers that owned a pub
  • R was a licensee of Ds, and under a service contract for the management of the pub
  • C and her husband were lodgers at the pub
  • C’s husband fell to his death on the stairs that had a missing lightbulb and handrails

Issue

  • Were Ds and liable for C’s husband’s death as occupiers of the pub?

Held (House of Lords)

  • Ds owed a common duty of care to C’s husband as a joint occupier of the property together with R
  • However, Ds’ duty was not breached

Lord Denning

Concept of occupier

  • *Definition of occupier: a person who had a sufficient degree of control over premises to put him under a duty of care towards those who came lawfully on to the premises (visitors)
  • A person need not have entire control over the premises nor exclusive occupation to be an occupier
  • Two or more persons may be occupiers

Landlord vs licensor

  • Where a landlord let premises by demise to a tenant, he was regarded as parting with all control over them and under no duty to visitors
  • Parts not demised such as staircases are retained under the control of the landlord
  • Where an owner did not let premises to a tenant but only licensed a person to occupy on terms which did not amount to a demise, he still retained sufficient control for a duty towards the visitor to be imposed

Current case

  • Ds had sufficient degree of control to be an occupier
    • They had complete control over the ground floor
    • They had only given R a licence to occupy, having themselves to do repairs in the premises
  • Ds and R were joint occupiers of the premises

Lord Morris

  • There can be joint occupiers, occupation need not be exclusive
  • Occupation is not confined to actual presence and it can be exercised vicariously through servants (archaic term for employee), agents or caretakes
  • Ds were in control through their servants R and exercised control through checking the conditions and making repairs
  • Permission from brewery is given indirectly through R, who was given the permission to take guests
  • Where there is more than one occupier, the extent of duty is proportional to the extent of control