Slip, Trip or Fall Accidents in Public Places

08 March 2018

Any area that is used by the public needs to be properly maintained to ensure the safety of the people using the area. If a member of the public suffers a personal injury in a slip, trip or fall accident in a public place, and reasonable steps had not been taken to make the area safe, the injured person may be entitled to make a public liability claim against the owner or the entity in control of that area at the time of the accident.

Slip, Trip or Fall Accidents on Pavements

Local authorities (such as local councils) are usually responsible for maintaining public spaces. This will often include roads, parks and pavements, providing they are not located on privately owned land.

Poorly maintained pavements can pose a trip, slip or fall hazard to the people using it. 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.

If maintenance of the pavement is the responsibility of the local council, it has a legal responsibility to make sure that the pavement is maintained to a reasonable standard and that it is free of any defects, such as potholes, which could pose a risk to the public. This means that if you suffer a personal injury in a fall, slip or trip accident on a pavement which could have been avoided if the pavement had been maintained to the appropriate standard, then you may be entitled to claim compensation from the council.

Slipping on Ice or Snow

Another common cause of injury on public pavements, is slipping on ice or snow. Local authorities do have a general duty to make sure that safe travel along a highway isn’t endangered by snow or ice, but their duty only extends so far as is 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. Outdoor public areas that are not in control of the public authorities, but instead fall under private land, attract a far greater obligation on the landowner or occupier (person in control of the land). This person (or entity) will need to take reasonable care to protect the safety of its visitors. 

It is the responsibility of the landowner or occupier to maintain these areas, but again, in these instances, the Court will take into consideration what steps would have been reasonable in the circumstances. The Court will give weight to 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 but a few).

Again, the owners or persons in control of the premises have a duty of care to ensure that any lawful visitor will be reasonably safe while using the premises for the purpose for which they are invited or permitted by the occupier.

This means that if there is a spillage on the floor, then this 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 signage must be used to warn people of the potential risk of slipping. Owners of premises should also ensure that appropriate matting is provided to soak up excess water and prevent visitors from treading the water into the premises. When deciding on liability the Court will place a lot of emphasis on what inspection procedures the occupier had in place at the time of the accident and whether these were implemented suitably.

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 the injuries that you have sustained 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 the Accident Book.

If anyone else witnessed the accident, ask for their contact details. If possible, take photos of the hazard that caused the accident to happen, 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 as to whether you can make a public liability claim.

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