Jones v Bartlett [2000] HCA 56| 16 November 2000

ON 16 NOVEMBER 2000, the High Court of Australia delivered Jones v Bartlett [2000] HCA 56; 205 CLR 166; 176 ALR 137; 75 ALJR 1 (16 November 2000).

Jones was an adult who received serious injuries when he walked through an interior glass door at the house where he lived with his parents. The house was rented from Bartlett and another by the plaintiff’s parents.

Jones sued Bartlett for damages, alleging negligence, breach of statutory duty and breach of contract. The District Court awarded Jones damages, holding that Bartlett was negligent. The Full Court of the Supreme Court of Western Australia allowed an appeal. Jones then appealed to the High Court, who dismissed his appeal.

The High Court found that the premises were not defective and held that there was no negligence, breach of statutory duty or breach of duty of care on the part of Bartlett.

A landlord’s duty to take reasonable care to avoid foreseeable risk of injury does not require it to make residential premises as safe as reasonable care could make them: per Gaudron J at [87]. The duty owed to the tenants concerns what a reasonable person would do in response to a foreseeable risk of injury.

Per Gleeson CJ:

“There is no ground in principle for imposing upon the respondents an obligation greater than an obligation to take reasonable care to avoid foreseeable risk of injury to their prospective tenants and members of their household. The critical question is as to what is reasonable. The judgment of the Full Court, with which I agree, to the effect that there was no failure to take reasonable care, was a judgment of fact. It cannot be circumvented by an attempt to formulate the legal duty with greater particularity, in a manner which seeks to pre-empt the decision as to reasonableness.” at [57].

“There is no such thing as absolute safety. All residential premises contain hazards to their occupants and to visitors. Most dwelling houses could be made safer, if safety were the only consideration. The fact that a house could be made safer does not mean it is dangerous or defective. Safety standards imposed by legislation or regulation recognise a need to balance safety with other factors, including cost, convenience, aesthetics and practicality.The standards in force at the time of the lease reflect this. They did not require thicker or tougher glass to be put into the door that caused the injury unless, for some reason, the glass had to be replaced. That, it is true, is merely the way the standards were framed, and it does not pre-empt the common law. But it reflects common sense. ” at [23].


 

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