Latimer v AEC

A Summary of Latimer v AEC Ltd [1953]

Case name & citation: Latimer v AEC Ltd [1952] 2 QB 701; [1953] AC 643

  • Court and jurisdiction: House of Lords, England & Wales
  • Decided on: 25 June 1953
  • The bench of judges: Lord Porter, Lord Oaksey, Lord Reid, Lord Tucker and Lord Asquith of Bishopstone
  • Area of law: Negligence; duty of care

What is the case about?

Latimer v AEC Ltd [1953] is a famous case of negligence. It speaks about the cost and practicability of overcoming a risk. Sometimes the expense of taking precautions may need to be considered when evaluating whether a party is in breach of duty or not.

Facts of the case (Latimer v AEC Ltd)

In this case, a heavy rainstorm caused the floor of a factory to be flooded with water. The water was eventually removed, but it left behind an oily film on the surface of the floor, making it very slippery to walk on. The defendants did everything they could to mitigate the danger by spreading sawdust on the floor, but due to the huge space, there was insufficient sawdust to cover the entire floor.

The plaintiff, Latimer was an employee. He slipped and fell while he was performing his duties. He sued his employers for negligence, basing his claim on the fact that his employers should have shut down the factory.


Were the employers (AEC Ltd) in breach of duty to the plaintiff?

Judgment of the Court in Latimer v AEC Ltd

The judge of the first instance, Pilcher J, found that the defendants had been negligent at common law in allowing the workers to continue working in the factory even though they were aware that it was in a potentially dangerous condition.

His decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal, and the case was brought before the House of Lords. There, it was determined that the company had taken every step that an ordinary prudent employer would have taken in the circumstances to ensure the safety of the workers, and as a result, they were not liable to the workman for negligence at common law.                                                    

The reasoning behind the decision

The cost and practicability of overcoming the risk is sometimes an important factor in deciding whether the defendant is in breach of his duty to the claimant. Lord Denning stated that “in every case of foreseeable risk it is a matter of balancing the risk against the measures necessary to eliminate it.” If the cost of these measures significantly outweighs the risk, it is unlikely that the defendant will be in breach of duty for failing to implement them.

In the instant case, AEC Ltd had taken all reasonable precautions and had eliminated the risk as much as it could practically do without having to completely shut down the factory. The extreme measure to shut down the factory was held to have been unnecessary. Because there was no evidence to suggest that a reasonably prudent employer would have shut down the factory, and from the court’s perspective, the cost of doing so far outweighed the risk to the workers.

The legal points emerging from this case

1. There will be no breach if all of the necessary precautions have been taken.

2. It would not be negligent to fail to take a precaution that is prohibitively expensive in light of a risk that is not particularly severe.

List of references:

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