Legal Principles and Key Points
- In the case of Ashdown v Samuel Williams  1 All E.R. 35, it was held that an occupier is only required to provide reasonable notice of any exclusions of liability regarding dangers to visitors. Actual knowledge, especially where the danger is obvious, is not required.
Facts of the Case
- D2 occupied industrial premises on part of a dock estate, which was leased from the estate owners, D1. D2’s employees had to pass over the dock estate to access their place of work.
- One route through the estate that D2 had a right of way for was a private road which crossed at multiple points by railway lines. There was a shortcut with similar hazards that D1 was aware D2’s employees often used and never objected to.
- D1 posted notices at various points over the estate, including at the private road. This notice was visible from the shortcut.
- This stated that all persons using the road did so at their own risk and D1 had no liability for injury or damage (even those stemming from D1’s negligence or breach of duty). A second notice posted nearby specifically gave warnings of engines and trucks standing on the railway lines.
- C, D2’s employee, used the shortcut one morning. While crossing a railway line, she was knocked down and injured by railway trucks being negligently shunted along the line. C admitted that she had read the first few lines of the first notice, but nothing else.
- Did the general notice given by the notices exclude D1 from liability stemming from negligence performed on their land?
- Did D2 have a duty to warn C of the possible danger of using the shortcut?
Held by the Court of Appeal
- Finding for D1 and D2, that the warning notice contained adequate words to convey C the conditions for her licence to cross D1’s land. Since reasonable notice was provided, D1 avoided liability.
- The dangers of using the shortcut were well-known to C. There was no duty upon D2 to foresee the danger and warn C, especially when D1’s warning notices provided ample warning already.
- Wilkie v London Passenger Transport Board  established that in granting a licence to enter upon land, the occupier can impose conditions that absolve him from all or some liability he would normally have at common law.
- The judge found that C read the first few lines of the notice, and that she was aware that C knew the notice contained conditions which affected her. D1 had taken all reasonable steps to bring the conditions to her notice.
- It was argued that C was not under contract but merely a licensee, and thus only bound by what she in fact read according to Henson v London North Eastern Railway . However, this was actually the principle of constructive notice; the defendant failed in that case because they failed to establish that they took all reasonable steps to give the claimant notice of the conditions.
- In Rutter v Palmer , Scrutton L.J. said that ‘in construing an exemption clause, the general rule applies that D is not exempted from liability for the negligent acts of their servants unless adequate words to that effect are used.
- “It is true that he was there considering a general exemption clause which contained no reference to negligence, but, in my judgment, the principle there laid down applies equally in a case where, though negligence is specifically referred to, it may take several forms. Each case must, of course, depend upon its own facts, and in particular on what the licensee knows as to the user of the land… In the present case, however, C knew that the land was intersected by railway lines even before she saw the notice-she had walked out that way on her first visit. Moreover, by the time of the accident she knew full well that shunting operations took place, and, indeed, that these were conducted by D1. Accordingly, she knew the user of the land just as well as if the notice itself had said ‘Beware of shunting operations,’ followed by an exemption of negligence” .