Obligation towards Children

If the children are trespassers the only duty of the landowner is not to injure them intentionally, or to put dangerous traps for them intending to injure them. He is under no liability if in trespassing; they injure themselves on objects legitimately on his land, viz a heap of stones. To make a landowner liable for injury to children on his land, it must be proved that he expressly or impliedly invited them on to his land, and either did an act which caused damage with knowledge that it might injure them, or knowingly permitted the existence on his land of a hidden danger or trap.

According to the Occupiers’ Liability Act, 1957 an occupier must be prepared for the children to be less careful than adults. What is an obvious danger for an adult may be a trap for the children. Moreover, the children may be allured by certain dangerous objects which the adults may like to avoid. The occupier must guard the child visitors even against such dangers from which the adults do not need any protection.

In Glasgow Corporation v. Taylor, the defendants controlled a public park. A child of 7 years picked up and ate some attractive looking berries on a shrub in the park and died because the berries were poisonous. The berries were obviously an allurement for the children, but the defendants had not given sufficient warning intelligible to the children of the deadly character of the berries. In an action by the father of the deceased child, the defendants were held liable. Lord Summer said: “The child had no right to pluck the berries, but the corporation had no right to tempt the child. to its death or expose it to temptation regardless of consequences.” A heap of stones has been held not to be a trap and the child injured by that cannot bring an action.

In Phipps v Rochester Corpn. (1955) 1 QB 450, the plaintiff, a child aged five, went with his sister aged seven, to an open space on a building site of the defendants and there the plaintiff fell down in an open trench and broke the leg. The defendants were held not liable for there was no reason to suppose that children of tender age will be allowed to wander over the site unaccompanied by a proper guardian. But this rule will not apply to a case where, to the knowledge of the occupier, little children are permitted by their parents to go unaccompanied in the reasonable belief that they would be safe, e.g. a recognised playground