You are required to write a case note on the High Court of Australia’s decision in Jones v Bartlett (2000) 205 CLR 166 .
Your case note must identify the ratio decidendi, the material facts, the reasoning, the outcome and any important obiter dicta. What these classifications include will be discussed in this unit.
The issue in this appeal was whether the respondents in this case were liable to the appellant, who got injured due to hastily putting his knee through the glass door situated in the house. The damages in the case were decided to be of $75000 and at the trial in the District court.
It was claimed by the appellant that the respondents had conducted a breach of their contractual obligations under the lease as mentioned in the Residential Tenancies Act 1987 (WA).In addition, under Section 11 of the Property Law Act 1969 (WA), the appellant claimed that he was allowed to sue for breach even if he was not a member to the contract.
The Appellant Marc Jarrad Jones suffered injury in the evening on 27th November, 1993; he went through the glass of the door that was a separation between the dining room and gaming room of the house. The house was taken on rent by the parents of appellant from the respondent i.e. Graham Bartlett & Anor.
Following findings were brought into consideration by the commissioner;
- The house was built in late 1950s. After sometime, the gaming room was added at the back of the house and the door in question, was made of glass in timber frame and connecting the dining hall with the gaming room.
- The parents of the appellant took the house on lease from the respondents in November 1992, which would expire in November 1993, after which, they remained there on fortnight basis on terms of original lease.
- When the appellant, who started living with his parents since last few months, walked through the door which was made of glass, without noticing if it was open or closed.
- The Full Court of the Supreme Court found carelessness of the appellant to be as the sole cause of his injury.
- The negligence by the respondents included their failure to have expert supervision of the building before letting the building to the parents of the appellant. In addition, they failed to replace the glass of the door in question, with the thicker one which would have conform with the safety parameters that would have applicable if the building have been constructed recently or the glass of the door have been changed at that time.
- The witness on behalf of appellant Mr. Fryer, who was an expert in matters related to the use of glass, stated that the glass door was in compliance with the construction standards and regulations pertinent at the time of construction of the building. However, the glass of the door did not conform to the construction standards that would have been applicable if the house had been constructed just before providing the house on the lease.
- Another significant finding by the Commissioner which directed the obligation of legal responsibility under the Occupier’ Liability Actsupported the case based on tort of negligence.
- The Commissioner found negligence on part of the defendants because of their failure to have the premises effectively examined for safety before enabling the plaintiffs for lease. The inspection would have brought the issue into consideration and glass would have replaced in compliance with the safety standards.
- The Full Court decided against the appellant and stated that it was his negligence and the respondents had accepted that they owed a duty of care towards the appellant at all the stages of litigation.
- The Full Court concluded that there was no negligence on part of respondents failing to have the door evaluated by the experts during providing the house for lease because, if they would have got the premises inspected by experts, there was less probability of experts examining the glassdoor in question.
The claims of the appellant under the Residential Tenancies Act 1987 (WA) and Property Law Act 1969 (WA) were rejected by the Commissioner Reynolds as well as by the Full Court. It is considered to be as the liability of the tenants to keep the premises in good condition and to keep all the doors in similar circumstances as provided at the beginning of the tenancy.It was found by the Commissioner that when the incident occurred, the condition of the door was not in need of the repair and was in a good condition.
As section 42 (1) (c) of the Residential Tenancies Act required that the term of every agreement that the owner should comply with all the requirements regarding building, health and safety under any other conditions provide in the law in writing and are applicable to the building. The rent did not include any provision which modified, expelled or controlled the provisions of section 42 of the Residential Tenancies Act.It was not mentioned in the lease as a regulatory obligation that the glass material of the door in question had to be thicker than it already was. So, without any requirement of changing the glass material of the door in question, there was no potential relevance of section 42 (1) (c) and as such, there was no failure on part of the respondent to comply with any kind of requirement.
Findings of the Commissioner and Full Court
Section 42 (1) (b) provides that it should be a term in any agreement that, the landlord should provide and maintain the property in a reasonable condition of repair taking into consideration its age, character and potential life. It was held by Commissioner that the premises required to be repaired considering its age, character and potential life but, by using ordinary glass in the door also, if an individual did not attempt to walk through it while it was closed, injury would not have taken place and it proved that the premises were reasonably well for the residential purposes. It was agreed upon by the Full Court as well.
The Full Court also held that section 11 of the Property Law Act does not let him to take legal action for breach of agreement. The sections states that an individual can take direct interest in property, or advantages of any condition, right of entry, agreement over property even if he or she is not included as a party to the conveyance or instrument related to the land or property. There was not any provision in the lease contract which could claim to provide any such rights, benefits or interests upon the appellant and thus, section 11 was not associated with the appellant.
Section 5 (1) of the Occupier’s Liability Act provides that it is the liability of the occupier of the property to show care towards any individual entering the property with regard to risks due to the condition of property or regarding anything done or denied to be done on the property. The person entering the premises shall not suffer injury or damage due to any kind of danger in the premises.Section 5 (4) of the Act determines if the occupier of the property has released his duty of care, there are few provisions that can be taken into consideration include the probability of injury, situation of the entry in the property, nature of the property, the information to the tenant about the likelihood of the people in the premises, ability and age of the individual entering the property and the responsibility of the tenant to eliminate danger in order to protect the person from entering the premises. However, when the premises are under lease, the tenants are considered to be as the occupier of the premises instead of landlord and section 9 of the Act is applicable in this case. It was the sole responsibility of the landlord for maintenance and repair of the premises as well as towards the people entering the premises. However, it was held by the Commissioner that there was not any failure on the part of respondents in performing their responsibilities regarding continuation and repair and therefore, no risks occur due to such failure.
Occupier's Liability Act and Duty of Care
The reasoning of the Commissioner and the Full Court differed at certain aspects. It was held by the Commissioner that the respondents as well as the leaseholders were the occupier of the property under section 5 of the Act. It was agreed upon by the Full Court that the respondents were responsible of duty of care towards the plaintiff under section 5 of the Act if the glass door under question was considered to be as the dangerous part of the property. It was argued upon by the appellant that reasonable care required the respondents before the commencing of the lease to have the property examined by the experts, because the construction of the premise was lacking existing building standards and required to be made safer. However, the evidence revealed it to be an unusual practice because there was no indication that the house was defective and required repairing.It was also found to be unconvincing that if assessment of the premises would have been conducted, the recommendation for repair would have been made, because Mr Fryer did not provide any such recommendation.
It was claimed by the appellant that the respondents had a duty of care towards him under common law and his injury was the consequence of violation of duty of care. It was held by the Full Court that the duty of care towards appellant was not different from the duty of respondents under section 5 of the Occupiers’ Liability Act.The court mentioned that there was no ground in imposing greater obligation upon the respondents to take sensible care to avoid predictable risk of injury to the tenants. The judgment of the Full Court was that there was no failure on the part of respondents to take reasonable care and the claim of negligence was rejected by the court and the appeal was dismissed with costs.
The Common Law of Australia could impose certain kinds of duties on the landlords argued for by the appellant by the decision of the court but, the decision was self-evident. In order to impose such obligations upon landlords, the court includes duties of positive action would be atypical instead it would have retrograde impact. Until now, it is considered as the reasonable duty of care of the landlords to avoid any kind of foreseeable risk of injury due to dangers informed to them of which they were made aware about by appropriate inspection.But, if legislature would impose extended liability that would have occurred through notice after consideration by public and next to an opportunity for advice on such consequences. Such type of notices would allow the affected party to take their own decisions and to demand appropriate insurance accordingly.
Thus, the court decided that the claim of the appellant should be dismissed at trial and the claim by the appellant on the basis of breach of law and negligence under common law were also discarded by the Full Court. It was held by the court that the respondents had a duty of care towards appellant but was to evade predictable risk of injury to the plaintiff. The respondents did not breach any duty and the appeal was rejected with costs.
The brief review of the overseas laws illustrated following points;
- In majority of jurisdictions, the protection of landowner at common law has finally been conquered
- Various efforts have been made to put the legal responsibility of the landowners in typical negligence doctrine
- The developments have been went together and encouraged by the passage of legislature that imposes precise obligations upon the landowners, however, these have been restricted to the duty to implement reasonable care
- Courts in other authorities have held back from commanding positive duties to assure examination by the experts to identify dangers.
However, such kind of obligations requires the authority of the legislation upon its imposition by the law. The imposition of costs related to the inspections would have to be passed on to the renters and it would not automatically be effective in prevention of accidents.
O'Shea, Pat, Jones V Bartlett: When Do I Need To Comply With Evolving Building Standards To Discharge My Duty To A Plaintiff? (2016) Holmanwebb.com.au
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