Occupiers Liability Claims

Accidents occurring on property or land owned by someone else are very common, and form a major part of our personal injury caseload. Lawyers call these cases "occupiers' liability claims". They include a wide range of accident situations, ranging from the customer who slips on a grape in a supermarket, to a child injured at a play-centre, to the unwitting pedestrian hit by debris falling from a building site, even to the young lad hurt while playing in an abandoned warehouse. In such cases, the Occupiers Liability Acts 1957 and 1984 may be relevant.

If you suffer injury in an accident whilst on someone else's premises or land and would like to know if you have a claim for compensation then just contact us for a Free assessment of your case. We should be able to give you an immediate indication as to whether the claim is worth pursuing on a No Win - No Fee basis.

The law that regulates occupiers' liability personal injury claims can be quite complex. It is always best to consult with a specialist lawyer, but here is a brief overview of the legal position:

Claimants in occupiers' liability cases can be divided into two main categories; "lawful visitors" and "trespassers". The former are entitled to be there; the latter are not. Broadly speaking, the 1957 Occupiers Liability Act deals with accidents involving lawful visitors, whilst the 1984 Occupiers Liability Act deals with accidents involving trespassers.

The law requires "occupiers" of land and premises to take reasonable care for the safety those who are on it. "Occupier" means the person in control of the land, building, premises, shop, warehouse, car park, etc. The 1957 Occupiers Liability Act has even been held to cover ships, hovercraft, scaffolding and quaysides, so the scope is wide indeed. The occupier might be a local authority, a company, an individual or a partnership.

If there is any argument about whether someone is an occupier of land or not, the law applies the test of control (set out in the case of Wheat -v- Lacon [1966] AC 552.) The judge in that case said a person is an occupier if he "..has a sufficient degree of control over premises that he ought to realise that any failure on his part to use care may result in injury to a person lawfully there ..."

S2 (2) of the Occupiers Liability Act states ... "[The] duty [is] to take such care as in all the circumstancesā€¦ is reasonable to see that the visitor will be reasonably safe in using the premises for the purpose for which he is invited or permitted to be there ..." As so often in law, there is much use of the word "reasonable", which simply means that the law does not give a rigid set of rules for every conceivable situation, but intends that a broad principle should be applied sensibly to each case.

Interestingly, the Occupiers Liability Act acknowledges that "... an occupier must be prepared for children to be less careful that adults ..." [S2 (3)a].

So, in theĀ  case of Glasgow -v- Taylor [1922] 1 AC 44, a local council was found liable to pay compensation when a young child ate poisonous berries in a municipal park. The judge ruled they should have realised the risk and prevented it. Similarly, in the case of Jolley -v- Sutton LBC [2000] 3 All ER 409, a boy who was injured when a small boat he was playing around with fell on him, was entitled to claim compensation from the council as the occupier of the land on which the accident happened.

The 1957 Occupiers Liability Act recognises that experts working on premises will "... appreciate and guard against any special risks ...", so such a person may find it more difficult to claim compensation for any injuries sustained.

To protect themselves against accident and injury claims occupiers need to take a good look at the overall circumstances of the premises and do whatever is reasonable to reduce any risks of accident or injury. For example, a supermarket should have a clear policy of regular checks of the shop-floor for spillages and make sure its staff are instructed to take action immediately if any are found, so as to minimise the risk of trips or slips. There should be written records to show that the policy not only exists, but has been actively followed. The play centre should have a similar policy for keeping an eye not only on the structure of the play area itself, but on the behaviour of the children in it and actually doing something about any shortcomings that are highlighted. The company renovating the listed building on the High Street should ensure that precautions are taken to prevent debris from the works falling on passers-by and causing injury.

If removing or reducing the risk of injury is not possible, then the occupier should make sure that the nature of the risk is clearly and specifically pointed out to those who come onto the land. It is not enough, for instance, for an occupier to erect a general "Beware" sign, though every case has to be looked at individually.

To emphasise that the law does (sometimes) apply common sense, there have been cases in favour of occupiers where judges have decided that the risk of accident or injury was so blatantly obvious that no sensible person needed telling about it. In the case of Staples -v- West Dorset District Council [1995] 93 LGR 536, the Court of Appeal refused compensation for a claimant who had slipped and been injured while walking on the Cobb at Lyme Regis. The rationale was when you walk on slippery stones, there is a good chance you will slip and fall. No warning sign from the council would have prevented the accident, nor would it have stopped the claimant walking on the quay. A similar approach might well be taken in cases of "tombstoning".

Incidentally, the oft-encountered sign which says "We do not accept responsibility for injury caused on these premises" has no legal effect at all. If the occupier is legally liable for an accident, then he is liable, regardless of the sign. Such signs are often found on premises occupied by local authorities, breweries and big commercial companies and they, of all people, ought to know better. So if you have been suffered injury where such a sign has been displayed then please don't let that put you off claiming compensation for the accident.

So much for visitors; what about someone who is injured when he wasn't entitled to be on the premises, are they entitled to claim compensation? Until the 1984 Occupiers Liability Act, the situation for a potential claimant situation would not have been good. However, the 1984 Act changed this and has made it easier for people who are not lawful visitors to claim compensation when they are injured The attitude of the law tended to be that if, despite warning signs, someone goes where he know he shouldn't and is injured as a result, he has only himself to blame.

The 1984 Act deals with the duty owed to persons 'other than visitors' and by this it means not only trespassers, but also people using a private right of way and (oddly) people visiting National Parks. S1 (3) of the 1984 Act states the occupier owes a duty of care if he knows of a danger on the land; and he knows or has reasonable grounds to believe that the person is in the vicinity of that danger; and he should be reasonably expected to offer that person some protection from it. So, it is not enough for a quarrying company near a known picnic spot to put up a sign warning of a deep pit, but not fence it.

On the other hand, S1 (6) make it clear that no duty is owed to persons who willingly accept the known risks. In the case of Tomlinson -v- Congleton [2004] 1 AC 46, the claimant was injured when he dived into a pool at a country park. He had ignored the warning signs saying not to do so. Although he was a lawful visitor to the park, the moment he entered the water, he became a trespasser. The court refused to award him compensation against the local authority which was the occupier of the park. He had knowingly done something he had been told was dangerous and he ought not to do. To put it another way, "... When you invite a person into your house to use the staircase, you do not invite him to slide down the banisters ..."

In short, we are all entitled to assume that the sort of places we all visit so often and without a second thought are reasonably safe, but we in turn have a responsibility to use our own common sense while visiting; and even more so if we are somewhere we know we should not really be. There may well be no harm in it, but if it turns out that there is, we might find we have no right to compensation should an accident occur.

If you have suffered injury in an accident on premises belonging to another person and would like to know if you are entitled to claim compensation, then call one us now for a FREE case assessment.

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