Claiming compensation for injuries sustained in public places

How can I claim compensation for an injury suffered in a public place?

Every day, individuals suffer injuries in public places such as roads, parks, and buildings open to the public such as leisure centres, supermarket and colleges. While many incidents are purely accidental, others occur due negligence, or a breach of the duty of care on the part of an individual or organisation. Where the injuries are caused by negligence or breach of duty, a claim for compensation can be made under ‘public liability’ law.

What is a public liability claim?

A compensation claim for an accident occurring on land or property that is open to the public is called a public liability claim. The claim may be made against, for instance, the local authority, a restaurant owner, or a company that owns or runs a shop.

All companies and authorities owe a legal duty of care to ensure their actions (or inaction) do not cause injury to members of the public who are visiting their premises, are on the public highway, or in a public area. Public liability legislation places a specific duty of care on organisations to protect members of the public. This requires them to, for instance, keep their land or property safe to protect the public from injury.

When might a public liability claim arise?

Often, an injury sustained in a public place occurs due to the property being in a dangerous condition. Examples of how injuries may be caused are: by sharp protruding objects; materials and debris left by workmen; pot holes in pavements; staircases in disrepair; fallen branches from trees overhanging the public highway.

A public liability claim may be possible where it can be shown that the local authority or organisation concerned breached their duty of care towards the injured person, for instance, by failing to remove debris or repairing holes in the pavement (or otherwise protect the public from falling over them).

Who do I make a public liability claim against?

If you were to suffer an injury in a public place, you would need to make a personal injury claim against the person, business or local authority who was responsible for the property. In reality, the claim will be made against their insurer (if they have one).

Public liability insurance covers an organisation, such as a business, against claims that arise following injuries to members of the public, clients and third parties.

The most common types of injuries sustained in public places include:

  • Accidents on defective pavements
  • Falls caused by debris
  • Falls caused by wet floors
  • Accidents at schools
  • Bacterial/food poisoning claims
  • Escalator and lift injuries

Accidents on defective pavements

If you have suffered an injury following an accident on a public pavement, path or road, you may be entitled to claim for compensation from the appropriate local authority. Examples of such incidences involve broken tarmac, uneven paving stones, potholes or a raised tripping hazard.

Many of these issues will have been reported to the local authority who will then instruct the highway authority to alleviate these problems. The local highway authority has a legal responsibility to maintain the pavements and roads to a satisfactory standard. If they do not act reasonably in discharging their responsibility, they are most likely to have breached their duty of care.

However, it is important to note that the local authority highways department has a reasonable time period in which to inspect and repair roads, pathways and so on. If you suffer an injury involving an issue with the highway which has already been reported to the local authority, the higher your chances of a successful claim – but this will depend on when any issues have already been reported and what has been done in the meantime.

Accidents at schools

Accidents at schools may occur because of defective school grounds or facilities, or a lack of adequate and effective supervision.

The school has a legal responsibility to maintain the safety of children attending the school, along with other people on the premises including teachers and staff, and visitors. The school or the local authority may be liable for compensation for injuries sustained on the premises if there was negligence involved.

Falls caused by debris

The owner of any public space has a responsibility to clear away any debris which may cause a hazard to members of the public. Examples include material left over from building work, or items dropped on the floor in a supermarket.

Falls caused by wet floors

Many public places, such as shops, will carry out regular cleaning of their floors. In such instances, if the floor is left wet as a result, these business are required to display a “wet floor” sign in a prominent location nearby. If they fail to do so, and you slip and injure yourself on the wet floor, they have failed in their duty of care and you will be entitled to make a claim for compensation.

Bacterial and food poisoning claims

Food poisoning is behind many successful personal injury claims. The most common cause of food poisoning is insufficiently cooked food, or incorrect handling or storage of food. If you have suffered food poisoning after eating food in, for instance, a restaurant or provided on public premises, or in an educational establishment, you may be able to make a claim for compensation under public liability law.

Escalator and lift injuries

Lifts and/or escalators exist in most large public buildings. Under the Equality Act 2010, organisations have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people, so lifts are commonplace today. It is the duty of the organisation concerned to keep lifts and escalators in proper working order and in a good state of repair. If a malfunction or defect causing faulty working of the lift or escalator and this results in an injury, the victim may be able to claim compensation.

What steps should I take to claim compensation?

If you have suffered a personal injury in a public place, it is important to ensure the incident is formally reported to, and recorded by, the business owner, organisation or local authority concerned. If it was a serious accident, the organisation must report it to the Health & Safety Executive. Evidence of this will be important for your claim.

Record as much information as possible about the incident and your injuries, including details of any witnesses; photographs of the scene and any injuries; a diary of events; medical evidence. Even if your injury is not very serious, you should see your doctor so that there is medical evidence available early on.

You should also seek expert legal advice from a personal injury lawyer in relation to making a formal compensation claim.

How do I prove my claim?

To succeed in your public liability personal injury claim, you will need to prove:

  • The organisation or local authority owed you a duty of care
  • This duty was breached
  • This breach caused you injury or harm

Sometimes, proving liability is not always straightforward. For example, the local authority is allowed a reasonable length of time in which to inspect and repair roads, pavements, etc. In a tripping case involving a pavement, for instance, your lawyers will need to prove that the local authority failed to repair the pavement in a reasonable time frame and did nothing to protect the public from continuing danger.

If I am successful, what compensation will I receive?

You can claim “general damages” and “special damages”.

General damages compensates you for your pain and suffering and ‘loss of amenity’, meaning an inability to continue to carry out your normal day-to-day activities and hobbies.

Special damages are awarded to cover any losses and expenses incurred, for instance, loss of earnings (including potential future earnings), travel costs to hospital, prescription costs, damaged clothing, necessary medical equipment, and so on. It is important to keep records and receipts to substantiate any claim for special damages. Your solicitor will advise you on what compensation you are likely to receive.