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In a recent decision the Court of Appeal has given useful advice to property owners on when to erect warning signs – and when not to do so.

In English Heritage –v- Taylor the Court had to consider the liability of English Heritage to Mr Taylor, a visitor to Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight. During the course of his visit Mr Taylor lost his footing and was propelled across a grass pathway, over the sheer face of a bastion wall and into the moat.

It is well established that the common duty of care is to take such care “as in all the circumstances is reasonable” to see that the visitor is “reasonably” safe in using the premises for the purpose for which he is invited or permitted by the occupier to be there. A duty to protect against obvious risks exists only where there is no genuine and informed choice. The Courts have to establish how obvious a danger is and what, if any, steps should be taken to reduce or eliminate the danger. Adult visitors do not require warnings of obvious risks except in cases where they do not have a genuine or informed choice and the steps need be no more than reasonable steps.

English Heritage was found to be liable, but lovers of the countryside and historic buildings will appreciate the Court’s comment that the decision should not be interpreted as requiring occupiers like English Heritage to place unsightly warning signs in prominent positions all over sensitive historic sites.

Property owners should ensure that they carry out regular, documented, risk assessments to ascertain the dangers that may exist at their premises and ensure that appropriate steps are put in place to see that visitors are reasonably safe. Reviews should then be undertaken to ensure that any steps taken are maintained, for example signs are not damaged or removed. Insurance cover is of course essential to cover cases like Mr Taylor’s when an accident happens.

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