This article has been written by Ayush Tiwari, a student of Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA. The article aims to analyse one of the landmark judgments with regard to the tort of negligence.
This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.
Case Name: Glasgow Corp. v. Taylor
Year of judgment: 18 November 1921
Citation:  1 AC 44
Court: House of Lords
Bench: Lord Buckmaster, Lord Shaw of Dunfermline and Lord Wrenbury
This case is based on the tort of negligence, in which a 7-year-old child died as a result of the city of Glasgow corporation’s breach of duty towards all residents who are subjects of the city of Glasgow. This incident occurred in Glasgow, Scotland. The city of Glasgow is the defendant in this dispute. The plaintiff is Taylor, the father of the dead seven-year-old kid. Taylor filed a lawsuit against the corporation of Glasgow, claiming damages for injuries he sustained as a result of the corporation’s carelessness.
This matter was brought before the House of Lords on November 18, 1921. The father of a seven-year-old child who died after eating the berries of a deadly plant called Atropa belladonna growing in a public area in Glasgow sued the city to seek compensation for his son’s death. The berries of the toxic plant were not fenced, and their look was appealing in nature, which would ordinarily attract youngsters. The area where the corporation planted the berries was adjacent to a public garden, which was open to children and individuals of all ages. The gate to the berry-growing area was readily accessible by small children, and it was part of a garden that was frequently visited by the youngsters in that neighbourhood. The boy went into the area where the toxic berries were growing with some other kids and ate a few of them. He had respiratory issues, and despite receiving prompt medical assistance, he died within a short time. The defendants were aware that the berries they were producing were deadly, but they made no precautions to inform the public about this.
As the garden was under the council’s authority and maintenance, the boy’s father filed a claim against the Corporation for negligence.
Following are the issues raised in the case:
- Whether the corporation fails to uphold its duty of care which is owed to the public garden’s visitors?
- Whether the duty of care was held to a much higher level because a child was involved?
To decide the case several principles were applied by the House of Lords. These principles were:
Duty of care
In this case, the corporation owed a duty of care to everyone who used the public garden. The defendants owed a duty of reasonable care to everybody who came to the garden.
Breach of duty
Since the defendant owes the plaintiff a duty of care, and failure to fulfil that obligation leads to a breach of duty. A breach of duty to the plaintiff is required. It might be in the form of an error or omission. In Glasgow Corp. v. Taylor, there was a breach of duty since they failed to take any essential steps to prevent individuals from entering the premises or to warn them about the berries’ dangers.
Depends upon the foreseeability of harm
The company in Glasgow v. Taylor was aware of the berries’ harmful nature and the potential consequences if someone ate them; the berries’ look was similar to that of grapes, and anybody might easily be misled. The harm was predictable, and the firm did nothing to stop it from occurring, either by their actions, such as issuing a warning, telling people about the nature of the berries, or constructing a strong wall to prevent people from entering. As a result, they were responsible for their actions. So it can be said that if the defendant is aware of the harm, he has a responsibility to do all in his power to prevent it, whether by his actions or through warnings and notifications. He will be held accountable if he fails to prevent the damage. He will not be responsible if the damage is not foreseeable and is only a remote possibility that is practically unlikely to occur.
The magnitude of a risk
The degree of risk is a significant consideration since not every circumstance necessitates the same level of care and the degree of risk changes from one situation to the next. If the risk of damage is considerable, the precautions adopted should be more extensive. Whereas, when the risk of damage is low and the chance is distant, the precaution taken should be in such form. The level of risk in Glasgow v. Taylor was substantially larger, as the berries had a lethal character and were misleading in nature. People should have been cautioned. Many safeguards should have been taken in this scenario, such as prohibiting people from entering and posting a warning or sign regarding the type of berries that were growing.
As a result of the violation of a duty owed to the plaintiff, the plaintiff experienced loss, which would constitute carelessness. The plaintiff (father of the boy; Taylor) suffered significant damage and his seven-year-old son died as a result of the corporation’s negligence in the case of Glasgow v. Taylor. The corporation owed a duty to all visitors to the town’s public garden, and due to their breach of duty of not warning people about the nature of the berries, not constructing a solid fence to prevent people from entering, and other necessary precautions.
Lord Atkinson, Lord Buckmaster, Lord Shaw, and Lord Sumner said that:
“The management and the corporation of the botanic garden where they were growing different types of the berries which were in the public garden and were solely responsible for the death of the seven years old child”.
They went on to say that the toxic berries they were growing, called Atropa belladonna, were incredibly attractive and appealing in nature and that they looked a lot like grapes. Adults and children of all ages, even those too young to recognise the differences in the berries, may have been fooled. They also said that it was the corporation’s job to adequately fence the area, plant the toxic berries in a separate location from non-poisonous berries and that there should have been some form of notice to alert the public about the berries and prevent them from eating.
The Glasgow Corporation was found to be liable in this case by the court. They had allowed children to access the area, and, logically, the berries would have piqued the interest of visiting children, posing a threat. The defendants were aware of the danger posed by the toxic berries but took no action to mitigate the harm. The suit was necessary to go to trial on this basis.
In this case, the Court undertook an in-depth analysis for determining the issue of the liability of the corporation of Glasgow.
Lynch v. Nurdin (1841) is a well-known case in which the defendant left his horse and waggon unattended in the public streets. The plaintiff, a seven-year-old boy, was playing when he climbed into the cart. Another minor inadvertently led the horse forward, causing the plaintiff to be thrown out and injured. Though the plaintiff was a trespasser, not on the street, where he had a right to be, but on the cart the defendant had left unsecured in the street – the cart – it was decided that the defendant was culpable in an action on the matter.
“The presence of some object of attraction in a frequented place, tempting ‘a child’ to meddle where he ought to abstain, may well constitute a trap, and in the case of a child too young to be capable of contributory negligence, it may impose full liability on the owner or occupier, if he ought, as a reasonable man, to have anticipated the presence of the child and the attractiveness of the peril of the hazard,” stated Lord Sumner in Latham v. R. Johnson and Nephew, Ld. (1912)
After analysing the case we can conclude that the defendants were aware of this danger caused by the poisonous berries and did nothing to prevent the damage so we can say that the defendants had the knowledge of the risk and they also owed a duty of care to the child but still, they did not put any notice or warning regarding the harmful nature of the berries and as the result of which the child suffered and hence they were held liable for the tort of negligence. Depending on the rationale and the judgment given by the judges we can say that the suit was necessary to go to trial on these grounds.
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