Demystifying the Occupiers Liability Act

The Occupiers Liability Act 1957 (“Act”) regulates the area of Tort law in England and Wales which imposes a duty of care that we, as occupiers, owe to visitors who enter our premises. The act sets out the statutory framework for determining liability in cases of accidents or injuries that occur on private property. Ben Jones – Partner in Blanchards Bailey’s Legal 500 ranked Litigation & Disputes team - delves into the key provisions and implications of this crucial piece of legislation.

Key Provisions

The Act has had a significant impact on the legal landscape, shaping the way occupiers liability cases are litigated. It has (arguably!) provided a degree of clarity in determining the standards of care owed by occupiers, thereby promoting safer environments for visitors to premises. The Act also serves as a crucial tool for both occupiers and visitors in understanding their respective rights and responsibilities. Occupiers are incentivised to maintain safe premises, while visitors are empowered to seek recourse in the event of negligence which causes harm.

Prior to the enactment of the Occupiers Liability Act 1957, the legal landscape surrounding the duty of care we owe as property owners to visitors was wide ranging and subject to varied interpretations arising from common-law (i.e. case law) precedent. The Act sought to codify and clarify the obligations determined to exist via common law, balancing the rights and responsibilities of both occupiers and visitors.

The Act primarily distinguishes between two categories of visitors: lawful visitors and trespassers.


Lawful Visitors

These are individuals who enter the premises with the occupier's permission, whether expressed or implied. The Act imposes a duty of care upon occupiers to ensure that lawful visitors are reasonably safe while on the occupiers premises. This duty encompasses the common-law obligation to take reasonable steps to identify and mitigate hazards that could foreseeably cause harm to visitors.



Trespassers are individuals who enter the premises without the occupier's permission or those who exceed the scope of their permission. Many are surprised to learn that, while occupiers owe a lesser duty of care to trespassers compared to lawful visitors, the Act still imposes restrictions on actions that may deliberately harm or pose unreasonable risks to trespassers.

The Act also establishes the criteria for determining liability in cases where an occupier fails to meet their duty of care. Namely, liability may arise if:

  • The occupier is aware of a danger or hazard on the premises and fails to take reasonable steps to address it;
  • The occupier should have been aware of the danger through reasonable inspection and maintenance procedures;
  • The danger poses a foreseeable risk of harm to visitors.

The Act emphasises the importance of foreseeability in assessing liability. Occupiers are expected to anticipate and address potential risks that could harm visitors, taking into account factors such as the nature of the premises, the purpose of the visit, and the characteristics of the visitors (without straying beyond the scope of this article, it is worth noting that a person who commits a tort – such as negligence - must take those suffering injury as a result of their tort as they finds them. The eggshell skull rule dictates that an “injuror” cannot complain if the injuries they have caused transpire to be more serious than first thought because the “injuree” suffered from a pre-existing weakness).

Navigating Disputes and Litigation under the Act

Disputes under the Act usually stem from allegations of negligence or breaches of duty of care by occupiers. These disputes may arise from a myriad of circumstances, including defective premises, inadequate warnings, or failure to address known hazards.

Central to disputes under the Act are the fundamental principles governing duty of care and liability. Courts will consider factors such as the foreseeability of harm, the nature of the premises, the purpose of the visit, and the actions or omissions of the occupier in determining liability. Additionally, common-law continues to play a pivotal role in interpreting and applying the Act's provisions to specific factual scenarios, providing guidance on issues such as the standard of care, contributory negligence, and defences available to occupiers.

The Litigation Process

Litigation under the Act typically follows a structured process, involving the issue of Court pleadings, disclosure of documents and witness statement, and eventually a trial. Claimants, often injured visitors, issue legal proceedings by filing a claim against the occupier, alleging negligence and seeking damages for their injuries. Occupiers, in turn, may contest liability by asserting defences such as a lack of knowledge of the hazard, any contributory negligence on the part of the visitor, or the application of statutory exceptions.

Resolution and Remedies

The resolution of disputes under the Act may take various forms, including negotiated settlements, alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, or determination by the Court at trial. The Court may award remedies such as damages for medical expenses, loss of earnings, pain and suffering, and other losses suffered by the claimant as a result of the occupier's negligence. Additionally, injunctive relief or orders for corrective action may be issued to compel occupiers to remedy dangerous conditions on their premises.


In conclusion, the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 represents a pivotal piece of legislation that has enhanced and codified the legal protections afforded to individuals who enter private property. By ratifying clear standards of care and liability, the Act balances the interests of occupiers vs those of visitors.

Disputes and litigation under the Act nonetheless remains a complex and dynamic arena where legal principles intersect with real-world circumstances. The Act continues to serve as a benchmark framework for determining disputes, liability, and securing remedies for claimants.

If you are concerned about your potential exposure under the Occupiers Liability Acts 1957, please contact Ben and the Blanchards Bailey Litigation & Disputes team to let us know how we can help you.

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