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‘DIYers’ Beware! Incompetence is no defence to an action for damages




The Court of Appeal has confirmed that when a householder assumes a DIY task in their own home, they assume a duty to all who might subsequently be affected by their actions. Liability will be judged against the standard to be expected from a reasonably competent tradesman. The case confirms that it will be no defence for a homeowner to claim lack of knowledge, ability or craftsmanship in carrying out the particular task.


The plaintiff was a 22 year old who was present at the house as a guest of Mr Cogan’s son. The young couple were outside of Mr Cogan’s home when his son tripped and fell through a glass panel of the porch door. The glass shattered into tiny pieces and one of the shards went into the Plaintiff’s eye, resulting in the loss of her vision. The glass had previously been repaired by Mr Cogan in 2000/2001 and he had used an inappropriate kind of glass for the job at hand. The High Court found Mr Cogan was not liable for the Plaintiff’s injuries. It stated that a householder would not be held to the standard of a professional glazier performing the task for reward when carrying out repairs in the home. The Plaintiff appealed that decision to the Court of Appeal.


The essential question facing the Court of Appeal was whether Mr Cogan had failed in his duty of care to visitors to his home by repairing the door in the manner in which he did. Irvine J looked at the English Court of Appeal decision in Wells[1] and decided that it had been incorrectly applied by the High Court. In Wells, the English Court held that the degree of care required by a homeowner was by reference to the care and skill which a reasonably competent tradesman might be expected to apply to the work. The Court of Appeal held that the appropriate duty of care is not measured by reference to the degree of competence that the homeowner happens to possess, nor by reference to a professional standard. Rather, it is that of a reasonably component tradesman. The Court of Appeal held that a reasonably competent craftsman would have known not to use the type of glass used by Mr Cogan. Irvine J allowed the Plaintiff’s appeal and found Mr Cogan liable for her injuries. Interestingly, the parties had agreed prior to the appeal that in the event of liability being found in favour of Ms. Newman, the appropriate award of damages would be a sum of €200,000. Full text of the judgement can be viewed here. [1] Wells v. Cooper [1958] 2 Q.B. 265