EVERY occupier of an immovable property has the legal and social duty to act diligently to protect any person who lawfully enters his property from suffering any loss or damage due to a risk that could have been reasonably anticipated. There are numerous risks involved taking into consideration the large range of human activities offered and in which we are invited to participate.
For this reason, the occupier of an immovable property, i.e. the owner, the tenant or the licensee or any other person lawfully possessing or using it, who also has the right or power to invite or allow the entrance of a third person therein, is under the obligation to minimise the risks and to keep the place reasonably safe. The liability of the occupier is based on the fact that he is the one who is in possession of the property and the one who exercises the control and looks after it. The issue of the occupier’s liability is regulated by the Civil Wrongs Law, which refers to negligence as
(a) performing some act which in the circumstances a reasonable prudent person would not do or failing to do some act which in the circumstances such a personwould do, or
(b) failing to use such skill or take such care in the exercise of a profession, trade or occupation as a reasonable prudent person qualified to do so would in the circumstances use or take, and thereby causing damage.
Furthermore, there is a provision in the law that compensation shall only be recovered by any person to whom the person guilty of negligence owed a duty, in the circumstances, not to be negligent. Relevant to this issue is the case law of the Supreme Court of Cyprus, and in particular a recent judgment whereby it was decided that the occupier has two duties:
(a) for the static status of the property (state, maintenance and repair of the immovable property), and
(b) the operation of his activities and business. In the case in issue, the respondent was a member of the referee committee, having the duty to keep time during the basketball match which was organised by the relevant Federation in the multipurpose hall of a Gymnasium, owned by a School Board. In her attempt to ascend to the stage, the respondent used a wooden ladder which was not properly fixed to the ground.
Consequently, the ladder collapsed and the respondent fell on the fl oor and suffered injuries. As a result, she brought an action for damages against the School Board and the Court of First Instance issued a judgment for damages in her favour, holding that the School Board was responsible for her injuries. The Supreme Court in their judgment confirmed that the School Board owed a duty towards the respondent as an invitee to take reasonable measures to avoid known or reasonably predictable risks.
Such a duty covers also unusual risks which the occupier owed to be aware of. The School Board allowed the dangerous ladder to be used as a means to ascending the stage and indeed exposed the students of the school in danger. The fact that the ladder collapsed upon normal use, indicates that the use of the ladder entailed risks that the School Board ought to have known. Undertaking preventive measures was convenient but the School Board failed to take any action to this end. Such a failure established the liability of the School Board for negligence due to the breach of their duty of care.
George Coucounis is a lawyer specialising on the Immovable Property Law, based in Larnaca, Tel: 24 818288, [email protected]cytanet.com.cy