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Robert Addie & Sons (Collieries), Ltd. v. Dumbreck

    Brief Fact Summary. Dumbreck’s son entered Robert Addie & Sons Ltd.’s (Defendant’s) land, and was killed by Defendant’s haulage system.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The trespasser comes onto Defendant’s premises at his own risk. Defendant is liable only when the injury is due to some willful act involving something more than the absence of reasonable care.

    Facts. Defendant operated a haulage system in its fields. This system consisted of two parts: the engine, which operated the system, and a wheel about which a cable turned. The wheel was not visible from the engine. This wheel was dangerous, but very attractive to children. Defendant took some measures to keep children away from the wheel; however, the measures were only in the form of brief admonishments and warnings. It was evident that Defendant was more concerned about the safety of its own property then of the safety of the trespassers. The surrounding hedge had several gaps, making it easy for children to pass over the property. Children, in fact, often used the property as a shortcut. The two gates had signs warning trespassers that they would be prosecuted. Dumbreck’s (Plaintiff’s) son was a four-year old boy. He had been warned by Plaintiff not to go into the field. However, he ignored the warning, entered the property, was caught in the wheel mechanism, and died. The court awarded judgment for the Plaintiff, holding that the accident was Defendant’s fault, because they did not take suitable precautions to avoid accidents. Defendant appealed.

    Issue. Does Defendant, a landowner, owe a special duty of care to a Plaintiff’s child, a trespasser?

    Held. No. Judgment reversed.
    * The only question that arises for determination is the capacity in which the deceased child was in the field and at the wheel on the occasion of the accident. Plaintiff attempted to argue that his child was more than a mere trespasser, and was owed a higher duty. The court disagreed.
    * The trespasser enters the Defendant’s property at his own risk. Defendant is liable only when the injury is due to some willful act involving something more than the absence of reasonable care. There must be some act done with the deliberate intention of doing harm to the trespasser, or at least some act done with reckless disregard of the presence of the trespasser for Defendant to be held liable.
    Concurrence. (Viscount Dunedin) An invitee is on the land for some purpose in which he and the proprietor have a joint interest. A licensee is a person whom the proprietor has not in any way invited, he has no interest in his being there, but he has either expressly permitted him to use his lands or knowledge of his presence more or less habitual having been brought to him, he has then either accorded permission or shown no practical anxiety to stop his further frequenting the lands. The trespasser is one who goes onto the land without invitation of any sort and whose presence is either unknown to the proprietor or, if known, is practically objected to.

    Discussion. This case shows the harsh result when the party injured on the land of another is classified as a trespasser.


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