Tindall And Another v Chief Constable Of Thames Valley Police And Another [2022] EWCA Civ 25

Publication Date26 January 2022
SubjectLitigation, Mediation & Arbitration, Trials & Appeals & Compensation, Professional Negligence
Law Firm1 Chancery Lane
AuthorMs Francesca O'Neill

Mini-Summary

The Court of Appeal have allowed the Chief Constable's appeal against the Master McCloud's refusal to strike out the claim against him. The case concerned whether police officers who attended a road traffic accident caused by ice owed a duty of care to make the road safe for later motorists. Shortly after the officers left the scene of the first accident, a head-on collision occurred between two vehicles in which both drivers were tragically killed. Striking out the claims brought by the widow of one of the deceased drivers, the Court of Appeal rejected arguments that the police had made matters worse by their attendance at the first accident, or had assumed a duty of care, or had come under a duty by reason of the fact that they had had the power to exercise control over the accident scene. The Court held that the case was bound to fail on established, common law principles.

Practical implications

In this decision, the Court of Appeal re-affirmed the principle that absent a specific statutory provision which creates a civil liability (such as is the case with highway authorities under s41 of the Highways Act 1980) public authorities stand in the same position as other individuals regarding the law of tort. If a private citizen would not have owed a duty of care in the tort of negligence, nor will the public authority. The appeal arose out of the decision of Master McCloud, who when faced with an application to strike out the claim based on that principle, was unwilling to do so and considered that the law in relation to the duties of public authorities was in a 'state of flux'.

The Chief Constable's position was that this was wrong. The law has been developing since the careful consideration of Lord Nicholls in Stovin v Wise [1996] 3 WLR 389, in which the liability of a highway authority for a dangerous junction was considered. Lord Nicholls said: 'The distinction between liability for acts and liability for omissions is well known. It is not free from controversy. In some cases the distinction is not clear cut. The categorisation may depend upon how broadly one looks when deciding whether the omission is a 'pure' omission or is part of a larger course of activity set in motion by the defendant.'

When do public authorities owe a duty of care?

However, the law in relation to when a public authority may owe a duty of care has been greatly clarified by three recent decisions of the Supreme Court: Michael v Chief Constable of South Wales [2015]...

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