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  • In the case of Newman v. Cogan [2012] IEHC 528 (High Court, Ó Néill J, 5 December 2012) the High Court dismissed a claim against occupiers of dwelling house arising from injury to her eye from shattering of glass door, on grounds that the occupiers could not be held liable for the selection of the glass in the door which was prone to shatter.

    This was a personal injuries claim where the plaintiff suffered the loss of an eye arising from an accident at the home of her partner’s parents. There was an opaque glass panel in the door. At the time, the plaintiff’s partner was recovering from an injury to his right foot and was either hobbling about or using crutches to get about. The glass panel was broken accidentally by the plaintiff`s partner who stumbled into and broke the glass, when a shard of glass in flew into the plaintiff`s eye.

    The plaintiff sued the parents of partner (as occupiers of house) under sect. 3 of the Occupier’s liability Act 1995 on the basis that the plaintiff was a visitor on the premises. What was at issue was whether reasonable care had been taken of the visitor by the occupiers to ensure that no injury or damage was suffered by her by reason of any danger existing on the premises and whether the type of glass in panel was unsuitable in that it was a type of glass prone to shatter.

    The glass panel had been installed by the occupiers and the question was whether the occupiers failed in their duty of care to their visitor by having this type of glass in this door. It was agreed that a glazier would have insisted on installing a more suitable type of glass but what standard of work was expected of a householder? As to whether it was reasonable to have installed that type of glass O’Neill J. was of the view that one cannot expect a householder to have knowledge of technical aspects of the glazing trade. This was a type of glass in common usage in dwellings. Therefore the defendant had not failed in his duty as occupier by selecting this type of glass. Accordingly the plaintiff had failed to demonstrate that the occupiers had taken reasonable care in all the circumstances and the plaintiff’s action dismissed.

    As O’Neill J. stated : “To hold the defendant liable, in negligence, for choosing the glass that the first named defendant installed in this door in 2000 or 2001, would be to impute artificially to him knowledge of the technical aspects of glazing which could not be expected of somebody who was not involved in the building industry or glazing trade or to hold that he should have had this knowledge. To do this would be to impose upon the defendants a duty of care which would be artificial and which, in all probability, they had no real chance of discharging. Thus, in choosing this particular type of glass, which is in common usage in dwellings, it could not reasonably be said that the defendant failed in his duty as occupier of this premises, to the plaintiff, to take reasonable care to protect her from dangers on the premises. What is required by the law is that the occupier take reasonable care in all of the circumstances and, in my opinion, the plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that the defendants failed in that regard.”

    As was demonstrated in this case, the duty of an occupier to a visitor is to take “reasonable care”. This is not a duty of perfection.