• In the case of Wheat v Lacon [1966] A.C. 552, it was held that wherever a person has a sufficient degree of control over premises that he ought to realise that any failure on his part to use care may result in injury to a person coming lawfully there, then he is an ‘occupier’ and the person coming lawfully there is his ‘visitor;’ and the ‘occupier’ is under a duty to his ‘visitor’ to use reasonable care.

Facts of the Case

  • D, brewers, owned a public-house and entrusted a manager/licensee with managing it. The agreement required him to carry on the business of selling the D’s drinks on their behalf on the ground floor.
  • The manager was to allow D to enter the premises to view the state of repair, test/inspect the stocks and was not to part with possession of the premises.
  • D allowed the manager’s wife, as a privilege, to take in paying guests in the upper part-the living accomodation-of the premises.
  • C and her husband were staying in the living accommodations as paying guests of the manager’s wife. On 4th September 1958, the husband left the first floor to visit the bar using the back staircase.
  • The back staircase had an electric light with no bulb at the time. The handrail down the left-hand side of the staircase ended directly above the third step. C’s husband fell down the unlit stairs and died from a fractured skull.


  • Did D retain occupation of the premises, and if so did they owe C the common duty of care as a visitor on the premises?
  • Was the staircase dangerous to someone using it with proper care, thereby making it a breach of that duty?

Held by the House of Lords

  • Finding for D, that D were in occupation of the entire premises for the purposes of the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957, and owed C and her husband the common duty of care, but that there was no evidence of any breach of that duty.

Viscount Dilhorne

  • D did retain occupation, even if the manager was in control of the premises, as the agreement between them did not distinguish between the first floor bar and the second floor living accommodations.
  • D were under the common duty of care imposed by the Occupiers’ Liability Act s2. That is the duty ‘to take such care as is reasonable in all the case circumstances to see that the visitor will be reasonably safe in using the premises for purposes he is invited/permitted by the occupier to be there.’
  • Between when the staircase was built in 1938 and the accident in 1958, no accidents occurred on it. They were not steep enough to be inherently dangerous. The only unusual feature was the lack of handrail on the final two steps.
  • The fact that the bulb was missing at the time of the accident was no fault of D or the manager. Its removal by whomever was an intervening act. There was no ground to find that the manager’s wife knew that the bulb was missing in time to replace it.
  • D ought to have foreseen that visitors might use the staircase when unlit; they might not discover the switch to operate the light. But I do not consider that the staircase, if unlit, was dangerous for someone to use who was taking proper care for his own safety. It was straight and not dangerously steep.
  • “I do not think that the respondents could be reasonably expected to have foreseen that Mr. Wheat, when he reached the end of the handrail, would ‘step out with the confidence that his foot was about to come upon the floor level’ if he could not see the floor. As Diplock L.J. said; ‘My neighbour does not enlarge my duty to care for his safety by neglecting it himself’” [576E].