Leakey v National Trust is a seminal case in UK property law that dealt with the liability of landowners for natural hazards affecting neighboring properties. This 1980 decision addressed whether the National Trust had a duty to manage soil erosion on its land, which threatened nearby private property.

The case of Leakey v National Trust [1980] QB 485 concerned the duty of care one owes to their neighbours for hazards. This case also established Goldman v Hargrave [1967] 1 AC 645 applies to English law cases.

Facts of Leakey v National Trust [1980] QB 485

  • Cs’ land was damaged by soil fall and other debris from the D’s land
  • This fall was caused by nature, not due to any intrusion by humans
  • The Ds were aware of the risks for years
  • After legal advice telling them they would not be liable for naturally occurring slides, they did not do anything to prevent them
  • After rainfall, C noticed a crack above her house and offered to pay half the cost of making it safe, after informing the National Trust of it
  • They rejected this
  • There was large fall onto the C’s property; C claimed damages and order for abatement

Issues in Leakey v National Trust [1980] QB 485

  • Was the C correct in ordering for abatement?
  • Was the D liable even if the fall was caused by nature?

Held by the Court of Appeal

Appeal dismissed. The National Trust were liable, following the Privy Council’s decision in Goldman [1967]. The D will be liable where they are aware of the risk, and do not act with reasonable prudence to remove the danger.

Lord Justice Megaw

On Goldman [1967], Megaw LJ stated:

  • “We in this court are not bound by that decision, as we should have been bound if their Lordships had been sitting as an Appellate Committee of the House of Lords. But there can be no suggestion that the Board regarded the law of Western Australia, on the issues which they decided, as differing in any way from the law of England.” [508]

The judgment in Goldman [1967] developed on the law of land, there is now a duty of care on neighbours – it was not until O’Callaghan [1940] to be confirmed binding in this area [515]

  • “”… a general duty upon occupiers in relation to hazards occurring on their land, whether natural or man-made.” That change in the law, in its essence and in its timing, corresponds with, and may be viewed as being a part of, the change in the law of tort which achieved its decisive victory in Donoghue v. Stevenson [1932]”
  • “House of Lords decision in Sedleigh-Denfield v. O’Callaghan [1940] A.C. 880, … the change as affecting the area with which we are concerned was expressed or recognised in a decision binding on all English courts”


  • “in Goldman v. Hargrave [1967] 1 A.C. 645, a removal, or at least a powerful amelioration, of the injustice which might otherwise be caused in such a case by the recognition of the duty of care. Because of that limitation on the scope of the duty, I would say that, as a matter of policy, the law ought to recognise such a duty of care.” [524]

The duty of care required by the occupier “is a duty to do that which is reasonable in all the circumstances, and no more than what, if anything, is reasonable, to prevent or minimise the known risk of damage or injury to one’s neighbour or to his property.” [524]

Significance of Leakey v National Trust

Leakey v National Trust and Donoghue v Stevenson (1932): The landmark case of Donoghue v Stevenson established the foundation for the modern law of negligence, introducing the ‘neighbour principle’ where one must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which could foreseeably injure their neighbour. In Leakey v National Trust, this principle is extended to include natural hazards, not just acts of commission or omission directly by the defendant. This case illustrates that the duty of care includes managing the natural environment to prevent harm to others, a significant broadening of the original scope defined by Donoghue v Stevenson.

Influence on Later Decisions: Holbeck Hall Hotel Ltd v Scarborough Borough Council: This later case further examined the extent of a landowner’s responsibility over natural changes in their land. In Holbeck Hall Hotel Ltd v Scarborough Borough Council, the council was found not liable for the collapse of a hotel into the sea caused by natural erosion. The court differentiated from Leakey by emphasizing that the foreseeability and preventability of the erosion were not as clear-cut as in Leakey, highlighting the nuanced application of the duty of care depending on specific circumstances and knowledge of the hazard.

Exam Questions & Answers

What criteria must be met for a landowner to be considered aware of a natural hazard on their property?

For a landowner to be considered legally aware of a natural hazard on their property, certain criteria need to be met. Firstly, there must be evidence that the landowner had actual knowledge of the hazard, such as previous occurrences or expert warnings about the risk. Alternatively, it can be argued that the landowner should have had constructive knowledge, implying that a reasonable person in the same situation would have been aware of the potential for harm. This aspect of the law emphasizes the need for proactive investigation and monitoring of property conditions, especially in areas known for natural instability.

How does the court determine what constitutes ‘reasonable steps’ to prevent or mitigate natural hazards?

The determination of what constitutes ‘reasonable steps’ to prevent or mitigate natural hazards is highly context-specific and depends on a variety of factors, including the nature and extent of the known risk, the practicality of potential preventative measures, and the landowner’s resources. The court typically considers whether the landowner acted as a reasonable person would under similar circumstances. This includes assessing the feasibility and cost of action versus the severity and likelihood of the risk, balancing economic factors against the duty to protect neighboring properties.

Question 3: In what way might this ruling impact the insurance policies of landowners?

The ruling in Leakey v National Trust could significantly impact landowners’ insurance policies, particularly in terms of coverage and premiums. Insurance providers may adjust policies to include specific clauses that address liability for natural hazards, potentially increasing premiums for properties in high-risk areas. Additionally, insurers might require landowners to take certain preventive measures as a condition of coverage. This ruling essentially makes it crucial for landowners to assess natural hazard risks thoroughly and consider additional insurance coverage to manage potential liabilities.