Duty of care after explosion
BAKER -v- LOCK  WADC 48
The plaintiff, Mr Jesse Baker (Mr Baker) visited Mr Robert Lock (Robert) at his residence (premises) to discuss and pay for repairs that Robert had agreed to make to Mr Baker’s motorcycle. Whilst the two men and another man, were seated in a rear shed at the premises, Robert lit a cigarette lighter proximate to an open paint thinners tin or drum causing an immediate explosion and consequent fire which consumed the shed. All three men suffered burns.
Mr Baker sued William and Lynette Lock, parents to Robert (Mr and Mrs Lock), as owners of the premises by alleging that they owed him a duty of care, breached that duty and caused his injuries pursuant to the Occupiers Liability Act 1985 (OLA).
The issues for determination were as follows:
- Was Mr Baker injured in the explosion and fire at the premises?
The Court concluded that “… I [t was] am satisfied that Mr Baker suffered serious burns as a direct consequence of the explosion and fire caused by Robert lighting a cigarette lighter which ignited vapour from an open thinners drum in the rear shed of the premises…”
- Did Mr and Mrs Lock occupy the premises pursuant to the OLA or were they landlords at the relevant time?
The Court found that it was “… satisfied on all of the evidence that Mr and Mrs Lock left Perth and agreed with their son Robert and daughter Ms Lock that they would stay in the premises…”, thus not being occupiers but landlords to Robert.
- If Mr and Mrs Lock were occupiers or landlords, what, if any, was the statutory duty of care they owed to Mr Baker?
The Court indicated that it found the “… arrangement between Mr and Mrs Lock and Robert…was a periodic verbal tenancy agreement where Mr and Mrs Lock were the landlords and Robert and Ms Lock the tenants…”, hence Robert had a duty of care as occupier of the premises to all lawful entrants.
- Was there any other common law duty of care they owed to Mr Baker?
The Court concluded that “Although Mr and Mrs Lock owed Mr Baker a common law duty of care as landlords due to an invitee to the premises, their duty did not extend to the danger created by Robert. Mr and Mrs Lock owed Mr Baker no other common law duty …”
Although Mr and Mrs Lock owed a duty of care to Mr Baker pursuant to the provisions of the OLA and also at common law, those duties had no application in this case.” Because even if Mr Baker was able to establish duty and breach as pleaded, none of those breaches caused his injuries. It was not the storage of flammable substances in a shed to which visitors had access that caused the explosion. Rather the explosion was caused by Robert introducing an ignition source proximate to an open thinners drum. It follows that Mr Baker’s claim against Mr and Mrs Lock was dismissed.
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