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Outbreak of E Coli – Who should be held accountable?

9th Sep 2016

In 2009, a significant number of children became seriously ill after visiting Godstone Farm in Surrey. “Aaron, one of the children spent 6 weeks on dialysis at St Thomas Hospital in London and had to be fed through a tube. His brother Todd was discharged after 16 days but they both needed multiple blood transfusions.” The farm has admitted liability for the breach of Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957, and for the breach of statutory duty including the Control of substances Hazardous to Health Regulations. The question that came to the court’s attention was that, should public authorities, i.e., the Tandridge District Council (TDC) and the Health Protection Authority (HPA), be held accountable as well for the breach?

Turner J from High Court recently ruled that the farm was solely responsible for the accident. The court dismissed the allegation submitted by the farm that both TDC and HPA could owe individuals a duty of care. It was held not only there were proximity issue for concerning the class of the victims, there was also no assumption of responsibility; the public authorities were acting primarily for the public good but not the private interests of the visitors.

The judge noted that this allegation from the farm was a completely new situation as an attempt to ‘pass on the blame’. However, “novelty is no substitute for merit”, the farm is the sole party liable for this outbreak.

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