Case name & citation: Wells v Cooper  2 All ER 527;  2 QB 265
Court and jurisdiction: Court of Appeal, England and Wales
Decided on: 05 May 1958
The bench of judges: Lord Justice Jenkins, Lord Justice Parker and Lord Justice Pearce
Area of law: Duty of care; negligence
What is the case about?
Wells v Cooper  is a UK tort law case concerning the standard of care. It dealt with the issue of determining whether an amateur carpenter was liable for negligence.
Facts of the case (Wells v Cooper)
Albert Wells, a fishmonger, was delivering some fish to a house in Guestling near Hastings when one of his customers invited him in for tea. The home was called “Hazelgarth,” and it was located in Guestling. He pulled the back door shut behind him as he left. As the door was stiff and the day was windy, he had to exert considerable force to open it. The handle broke off, causing him to fall four feet off an unrailed platform and sustain injuries.
Fred Cooper, the owner of the house and an amateur carpenter with some experience, was the one who fitted the handle. Cooper believed the handle to be secure because he had installed it himself five months earlier and it had not shown any signs of becoming loose.
Issue that arose
Was Cooper liable for negligence?
Judgment of the Court in Wells v Cooper
The Court decided that Cooper was not negligent because he had acted with the skill of a reasonably competent carpenter, despite the fact that he had used three-quarter inch screws when a professional carpenter would have used one-inch screws.
Having undertaken the task, he was needed to exercise reasonable care (rather than merely doing his best), but he was not required to show the same level of workmanship as a contracted professional would show.
The reasoning behind the decision
It is not appropriate to expect ordinary people who lack specialized skills to adhere to the same degree of care as skilled individuals.
As far as the current case is concerned, the action for negligence failed because in carrying out the work, the defendant exhibited the same level of skill as a reasonably competent carpenter. He was not to be judged by the standard of care expected of a professional carpenter.
Quotes from the case
“Accordingly, we think the Defendant did nothing unreasonable in undertaking the work himself. But it behoved him, if he was to discharge his duty of care to persons such as the Plaintiff, to do the work with reasonable care and skill, and we think the degree of care and skill required of him must be measured not by reference to the degree of competence in such matters which he personally happened to possess, but by reference to the degree of care and skill which a reasonably competent carpenter might be expected to apply to the work in question. Otherwise, the extent of the protection that an invitee could claim in relation to work done by the inviter himself would vary according to the capacity of the inviter, who could free himself from liability merely by showing that he had done the best of which he was capable, however good, bad or indifferent that best might be.”
“Accordingly, we think the standard of care and skill to be demanded of the Defendant in order to discharge his duty of care to the Plaintiff in the fixing of the new handle in the present case must be the degree of care and skill to be expected of a reasonably competent carpenter doing the work in question. This does not mean that the degree of care and skill required is to be measured by reference to the contractual obligations as to the quality of his work assumed by a professional carpenter working for reward, which would in our view set the standard too high. The question is simply what steps would a reasonably competent carpenter wishing to fix a handle such as this securely to a door such as this have taken with a view to achieving that object.”
(Lord Justice Jenkins)
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