When the buck doesn’t move: non-delegable duties of care

The general law has it that an organisation is liable for its own acts or omissions and is vicariously liable for the acts or omissions of its employees. An organisation is not usually responsible for the negligence of a third party such as an independent contractor. However, the concept of such ‘non-delegable’ duties arise either where the activity is inherently hazardous (or ‘extra hazardous’ as the case law has it) or where the nature of the relationship between the organisation and the victim of the negligence is particularly close. It is this second situation that arose in Woodland v Essex County Council.

In Woodland, a 10-year-old girl suffered a serious brain injury as a result of an accident during a swimming lesson organised by her state school but provided by a private contractor. The issue before the Supreme Court was whether the council (the local authority responsible for the school) could be held liable for the negligent actions of the contractor (it had not been decided whether the contractor had in fact been negligent). The Supreme Court reviewed the law on non-delegable duties of care and set out the criteria when a non-delegable duty arises…

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