Slip, Trip or Fall Accidents in Public Places
28 January 2021
If a member of the public gets injured in a slip, trip or fall accident in a public place, and reasonable steps hadn't been taken to make the area safe, the injured person may be entitled to make a public liability claim. This claim would be made against the organisation or authority that owns or manages that area.
Any area that is open to the public needs to be properly maintained to ensure the safety of anyone using the area.
Slip, trip or fall accidents on pavements
Local authorities (such as local councils) are usually responsible for maintaining public roads, parks and pavements (unless they are on privately owned land).
Poorly maintained pavements can pose a trip, slip or fall hazard. It may be that the paving is uneven or some of the paving slabs are broken, both of which increase the risk of someone tripping. Or it could be that a manhole cover is missing or broken, which can result in a member of the public suffering a fall. Other hazards may include objects being left on pavements, causing an obstruction or trip hazard.
The local council has a legal responsibility to make sure that any pavement they look after is maintained to a reasonable standard. This means it should be free of any defects, such as potholes or cracks, which could pose a risk to the public.
So, if you suffer a personal injury in a fall, slip or trip accident on a pavement that wasn't properly maintained, you may be able to claim compensation from the council.
Slipping on ice or snow
Slipping on ice or snow is another common cause of injury on public pavements. Local authorities do have a general duty to make sure that travelling along a highway isn’t endangered by snow or ice, as long as it's reasonably practicable. The law recognises that councils are unlikely to have the necessary resources to clear every pavement in poor weather conditions.
Car parks and paved areas outside building entrances can be just as treacherous as public highways in icy conditions. The rules are slightly different for outdoor public areas that aren't looked after by public authorities (because they're on private land). There is a greater obligation on the owner or occupier of this land to take reasonable care to protect the safety of its visitors.
The Court will still take into consideration what steps would have been reasonable in the circumstances. The Court will look at what procedures the occupier had in place regarding adverse weather conditions, and whether these procedures were carried out sufficiently.
Slip, trip or fall accidents inside premises
Of course, it’s not just outdoor areas that pose a risk to members of the public. Another common cause of injury in public places is slipping indoors. This could be in a shopping mall, gym, office building, restaurant or night club (to name a few).
Again, it's up to the owners or occupiers to ensure that any lawful visitor is reasonably safe during their visit.
This means that if there is a spillage on the floor, it must be cleared up in reasonable time to avoid the risk of injury. Leaks must also be dealt with as soon as possible. If the ground is wet because of a leak, heavy rain being trodden in, or because of cleaning, then signs must be used to warn people of the potential risk of slipping.
Matting should also be used to soak up excess water and prevent visitors from treading water inside. When deciding who's to at fault for the accident, the Court will place a lot of emphasis on what inspection procedures the occupier had in place at the time and whether these were carried out.
What to do if you suffer a slip, trip or fall accident in public
If you do suffer an injury as a result of a slip, trip or fall in a public place, it’s important to record the details of the accident and your injuries as soon as you can. Ask the duty manager of the shop/gym/restaurant for their Accident Book and ensure that the incident is recorded in this.
If anyone else witnessed the accident, ask for their contact details. If possible, take photos of the hazard that caused the accident, such as a broken manhole cover or an unmarked spillage. If possible and it is safe to do so, take photos of your injuries as soon as possible after the incident.
It’s essential that you obtain independent legal advice from a Personal Injury Solicitor, who can provide advice and guidance on whether you can make a public liability claim.