When can you claim for an accident in a public place?

Road cones next to a vehicle

It won’t come as any surprise that many accidents and injuries occur in public places, even now, when we’re spending more time than ever at home. Some of these inevitably result in personal injury claims. They can involve numerous scenarios, some common, and some more unusual. The one that usually springs to mind is the classic slip or trip on a loose paving stone or an icy pavement. However, claims have arisen from attacking farm animals and wayward bouncy castles to name but two.

What all these claims have in common however is that the accident occurred in a place that the injured person was entitled to be, for instance, a shop, a street, or a park, and somewhere that was not the individual’s home, or place of work. A claim is often still possible of course, if the accident occurred at work, but this would be categorised as an employer’s liability claim.

Claiming compensation for an accident in a public place can fall under several different laws and regimes depending on where the accident took place. These types of claim are often referred to as public liability claims. A public liability claim includes cases where the injuries occurred local authority or council property, such as a park or a street, but the term can also include accidents on privately owned land.

What makes an injury claim public?

What makes it ‘public’ is that access is allowed by the owners at the time the accident occurs. This covers a wide range of locations and premises such as shops, restaurants, hotels, swimming pools, train stations, and outdoor spaces such as golf courses and amusement parks. These are also known as occupier’s liability claims.

These claims don’t always involve the type of injuries that you might expect. While there are of course some tripping and slipping incidents, leading to broken or sprained ankles, it is not unusual to see injuries as diverse as burns and scalds, food poisoning, drowning, amputations, brain injury, and even death.

Bringing a claim however isn’t always as simple as you might think. It isn’t enough to have been injured in a public place. While the owner of the land or property owes a duty of care to the public to keep them safe, this isn’t absolute, and if they have taken reasonable care to avoid foreseeable injury, a claim is unlikely to succeed. There needs therefore to be some negligence or breach of duty on the part of whoever, owns or has control over, the land.

Sometimes the negligence can be clear cut. An obvious spillage in a shop making the floor slippery and causing a customer to fall and injure themselves is an example, as shops have a duty to keep the floor clean and free of spillages. However, often the circumstances are such that it’s not clear cut, and this is where specialist legal advice is invaluable.

Examples of public injury claims

For example, if you are injured by a branch falling from a tree in the park, you might assume this is the council’s fault for failing to keep the tree in a good condition. However, what if there are records showing that they inspected the tree regularly before the accident? This can muddy the waters as the law doesn’t require them to protect against every eventuality. Other tricky cases involve injuries caused by slipping on ice or snow. Depending on the location, it might not be reasonable to expect the owner to be aware of or prevent snow or ice accumulating.

Of importance also can be what the individual was doing at the time the accident occurred, for instance if they were engaged in a reckless activity, perhaps climbing or shaking the tree mentioned above, the owner or occupier is unlikely to be found at fault. Although this does not apply as rigidly in the case of children. The law expects an occupier to know that children are unlikely to act as sensibly as adults and therefore the occupier may well be held at fault. An example could be where a park owner has planted toxic plants next to a children’s playground which are then eaten by errant children.

It is also important to identify the correct Defendant to sue. The occupier might not be responsible if the injury is caused by something or someone on the premises that they do not have control over.

In general, much of the law relating to who, and when they can claim, follows a common sense approach. However, behind the scenes is a multitude of caveats and exceptions developed over years of case law and legislation. This means it is important to have a specialist personal injury solicitor who can guide you through the process and who will be alert to any potential difficulties from the outset.

Make a claim for public injury

If you’ve been injured while in a public place and would like to claim, we can help. Contact us today to find out more.