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Public liability, slips, trips and injury

It is an uncommon occurrence. You are walking down the street and you slip or trip and crash heavily to the ground. Most of the time, beyond the embarrassment of falling, you can pick yourself up and go about your business.

Maybe you simply weren’t paying much attention to what was on the ground. Maybe you shouldn’t have to? Maybe there shouldn’t be potential hazards lying on the ground?

But maybe you can’t just pick yourself back up, because maybe you’ve really hurt yourself. Maybe you are going to be off work for weeks. Who’s to blame?  Why was the hazard there? Can you make a personal injury claim?

These types of accidents are referred to as a “public liability claims”. That is the legal term used to describe an incident where someone has been injured whilst in a public place. This type of accident is most likely to be either on a pavement, road or public area of ground. It is a likely to mean a claim against the Council or Local Authority rather than a private business.

The responsibility on a Local Authority to maintain public roads, pavements, etc is different from the responsibility on a private landowner (see occupiers liability for an injury which occurred on private land).

Like many areas of law, the rules about accidents in a public place are not completely straight forward. For example, if you fall on an even pavement at a high street shop entrance, who is responsible? Are you technically on the pavement, therefore it is the Council, or is it the shop’s responsibility to ensure their entrance is safe?

Making a claim against a Council or Local Authority

It is important to understand that no matter how severe the injury caused, the severity of injury has no bearing on blame. In other words, you need to prove that someone or some organisation was to blame and is therefore held to be negligent. For most public liability claims, this can be challenging.

Usually, a Council or Local Authority can only be held responsible for a tripping or slipping hazard once they have had a reasonable amount of time to find out it is there and then fail to do something about it. It is a question of resources. In other words, it is a question of how much money and how many staff the Council has to carry out repairs and maintenance and how they prioritise the repairs and maintenance they have to do.

No one could expect all roads, all pavements, all public areas to be monitored 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to ensure nothing happens which could then cause a hazard, which in turn causes someone to trip or slip and fall and cause injury.  And there lies the issue. How long is reasonable?

For example, a lorry driving onto the pavement whilst delivering goods causes a slab to be dislodged which becomes a tripping hazard. Should the Council have inspected that pavement to find out it was dangerous and do something about it? Or if they have been informed that the hazard now exists, how long is too long for them to leave it before it is fixed?

Trips

Before Digby Brown can take on a case against a Council or Local Authority, there are a number of things we require to help us assess whether a pavement trip compensation claim is likely to be successful. The most likely circumstances are either a trip on a kerb stone, a pavement slab or a pothole.

We need to know:

The height of the hazard. Generally the hazard needs to be vertical. The law states that anything under 20mm will not usually be deemed a high enough hazard to make a claim.

The simplest way to let us assess the height of the hazard is to take a photograph with a 10 pence piece on its edge pressed up against the hazard. If the top of the coin is not higher than the hazard, then it is unlikely that a claim can progress. Obviously, the direction of travel has to be towards the vertical face of the hazard to create the trip.

Witnesses and substantiation

This sounds complicated but isn’t really. It is simply a matter of finding others who may have tripped and witnesses who will know how long the hazard has been there. A local shop keeper or local resident for example might have complained about the hazard before or might have seen other people trip on the hazard.

We need to establish that the hazard has been there long enough that, firstly, the Council knows about it, and then secondly, they have had sufficient time to get it repaired but have failed to do so. In law, the Council will be able to put the argument of resources to the Court and say that they can’t be expected to repair every defect on every road or pavement immediately.

Witnesses and substantiation give us the counter argument about how long the hazard has been there and how long the Council has had to carry out repairs. So witness evidence about the hazard and about others who have tripped and already reported it to the council is crucial.

Very often the defect will be repaired at some point after the incident occurs. Without photographic evidence of both location and witness accounts verifying the existence of the hazard and the date, it becomes very difficult to establish the facts.

Slips

Very much the same as evidence is required for slipping accidents as for trips, except it is not necessary to measure the defect.

It is all about knowing what caused the slipping hazard in the first place and how long it has been there. Has anyone else reported it to the Council? Has anyone else slipped already and informed the Council? What timeframe has elapsed since the Council knew about the hazard?

Winter weather

Another significant issue is weather related accidents. Ice, snow and water can make any surface slippery and therefore potentially dangerous. However, again, it is not reasonable to expect that after a cold snap the Council can make every road and pavement safe.

Unless the Council has had time to treat the road or pavement and has failed to do so, then a claim for slipping because of bad weather is highly unlikely to succeed. Once again, that is a question of Council resources.

No win no fee personal injury solicitors

The expression “No Win – No Fee” is often used in personal injury cases.  It is used as a way of funding a compensation claim where the accident victim does not have the means to pay for the costs involved as the case progresses. 

A number of solicitors are prepared to handle personal injury cases on a “No Win – No Fee” basis but very few are able to offer their clients complete protection if the case is unsuccessful. 

In that event, the client could end up being liable for many thousands of pounds in legal expenses or the case won't be fully investigated and therefore likely to under-settle.

Compensate 'no win no fee' funding

Digby Brown has its own funding company, Compensate, which provides the funding to allow the case to be fully investigated, employ the best experts surrounding the circumstances of the accident and/or injuries sustained and where and if necessary go to court.

If for whatever reason the case is unsuccessful, Compensate pays all your legal expenses and those of your opponent – you pay nothing

On average our clients receive over 3 times the pre-litigation offer

Because of Compensate funding Digby Brown's success rate is extremely high and on average our clients receive three times the pre-litigation offer.

In the event the case is successful, a small percentage of your damages will be deducted with VAT to pay for this service. The percentage which Compensate will charge depends on the degree of risk involved. We believe that this is the fairest method of giving clients access to justice whilst ensuring their cases are fully investigated, prepared and funded.

Don’t take our word for it, just read many of the court decisions and case studies on our website, or watch Joanne's story.

Beware of compensation offers which may be too good

We know you will have seen many adverts offering 100% compensation or telling you that you will not lose any of your compensation, however we believe there are a number of problems with companies that do this.

  • How do they make their money if they don’t charge you anything?
  • If they aren’t taking any money from you, the client, what incentive do they have to ensure you receive the right level of compensation, appropriate to the injuries you have sustained?
  • Fully preparing a case, finding out exactly what happened and what the consequences of your injuries may mean in the long term, is expensive, how do they do this properly?
  • If they aren’t fully preparing these cases will they just accept the first offer they are given on your behalf by the Insurance company?
  • It makes simple business sense, the less work they do the higher their profit margin is - they simply have no incentive to work harder on your behalf.
  • These adverts in the main are from English firms on national television which operates in a different way and therefore wouldn’t apply to a Scottish person.

We know from the many client cases we mandate from other firms of solicitors (in the main at the request of the client who is extremely unsatisfied with the service received for the other firm) that many shortcuts are taken in preparation and that the first offer received is being recommended for acceptance, regardless of the value. 

Getting something for nothing is usually the first sign of poor service.

Correct level of compensation with Digby Brown

Our experience and statistics show time and time again we will achieve the correct level of compensation which will be substantially more than the insurer is initially prepared to offer.

Even after we have deducted our percentage as a success fee you will gain considerably more than you would have achieved using a 100% compensation model.

Contact Digby Brown's personal injury solicitors

We have offices across Scotland in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Kirkcaldy, Inverness, Aberdeen and Ayr.

For further information about no win no fee, or anything else, call us on 0333 200 5925 or fill in our enquiry form below and someone will get back in touch with you.

Next steps

Personal injury compensation has always been depicted in posters as someone slipping or tripping on the street. The reality is, the law is reasonable, to both the victim and the defender. That means that a local Council only has to do what it can reasonably do with the resources it has. For that reason, most slipping and tripping claims do not succeed.

If you believe your circumstances do meet the criteria and would like to speak to someone, please either fill in an enquiry form or call our Legal Enquiry Team, who are available seven days a week. Don’t worry if you are unsure whether your circumstances would be defined as public liability. We’ll know that once we investigate what happened.

0333 200 5926

Monday to Friday: 8am - 7pm 

Saturday and Sunday: 12pm - 4pm

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