Occupiers’ liability generally refers to the duty owed by land owners to those who come onto their land. However, the duty imposed on land owners can extend beyond simple land ownership and in some instances, the landowners may transfer the duty to others, hence the term occupier rather than owner.

The term occupier itself is misleading since physical occupation is not necessary for liability to arise. Occupiers’ liability is perhaps a distinct form of negligence in that there must be a duty of care and breach of duty, causing damage.

The rules of remoteness apply to occupiers liability in the exact same way that they apply to negligence claims.

Liability can arise on occupiers for omissions since their relationship gives rise to duty to take action to ensure the reasonable safety of visitors. The law relating to occupiers’ liability originated in common law but is now contained in two major pieces of legislation:

Occupiers Liability Act 1957  – which imposes an obligation on occupiers with regard to ‘lawful visitors’

Occupiers Liability Act 1984 – which imposes liability on occupiers with regard to persons other than ‘his visitors’.

Different levels of protection are expected under the two pieces of legislation with a higher level of protection afforded to lawful visitors.


Both the Occupiers Liability Acts of 1957 and 1984 impose an obligation on occupiers rather than land owners.

The question of whether a particular person is an occupier is a question of fact and depends on the degree of control exercised. The test applied is one of ‘occupational control’ and there may be more than one occupier of the same premises:

Wheat v E Lacon & Co Ltd [1966] AC 552 Case summary

Physical occupation is not a requirement:

Harris v Birkenhead Corp[1976] 1 WLR 279    Case summary