What is Occupiers Liability?

11 December 2020

A company or individual who occupies a property has a duty of care to people who visit it. Occupiers liability is the area of law which deals with this duty of care, and it applies to anyone who owns or rents a property that people can visit.

An occupier has a duty of care to all visitors to ensure the premises are reasonably safe. This is unless the occupier is aware of a specific danger with the premises, in which case they must highlight the danger.

This applies to anyone who's visiting the premises legally, such as a post worker delivering letters, for example.

If a child is visiting the premises, the occupier must take additional steps to care for their safety, because children can be less careful than adults.

The occupier doesn't have a legal duty of care for the safety of a trespasser unless there are dangers that the occupier is (or should be) aware of. If there are any dangers on the premises, the occupier should take steps to make any visitor aware of these dangers. If they don't and someone is injured, the occupier could be blamed even if the injured person didn't have the occupier’s permission to visit the property.

If someone does suffer injury because of an accident on the premises they may be able to make an occupiers liability claim for compensation.

What types of premises are included under occupiers liability?

Occupiers liability law relates to public places, such as shopping malls, department stores, car parks, museums, hospitals, parks, restaurants and private residences.

Confusingly, an occupiers liability claim is sometimes referred to as a public liability claim and vice versa. Public liability claims generally cover all claims where someone has been injured in a public place or on someone else’s property.

These claims relate to the duty of care of property owners and anyone who has some control over the premises where the accident happened. There is a specific Act of Parliament called the Occupier’s Liability Act which sets out the duties of occupiers.

When you're out and about as a member of the general public, you are legally entitled to be able to enjoy public spaces without facing unreasonable risk to your health or safety. It is the duty of the occupier to ensure that this is the case.

So, for example, shopping malls are usually managed by a company and this company would be responsible for ensuring that the mall is safe for shoppers. Individual shop units may then fall under the responsibility of the owner of that shop. The occupier is then responsible for managing risks in that environment, from ensuring the plumbing and wiring meets the necessary safety standards right through to cleaning up spillages that could pose a slip hazard.

Hospitals are also covered under occupiers liability law. If you are a visitor to a hospital, the occupier of the hospital must ensure that the hospital premises are reasonably safe for you. If you slip on a highly polished or recently mopped floor and are injured, you may be able to claim compensation against the occupiers of the hospital for your injuries.

Example of occupiers liability – slipping in an icy carpark

If someone makes an occupiers liability claim, during the case the court will consider whether the occupier breached their duty of care. Just because an accident has happened, it doesn't necessarily mean the occupier neglected their duties.

In a recent case, a man called Mr Cook was injured when he slipped on ice on an unmanned car park owned by Swansea City Council. He brought a claim against the Council on the basis that they should have gritted the car park when ice was forecast. The Council didn't have a pro-active system of gritting the car park, but relied on members of the public to report snow or ice before sending out a gritting crew.

Mr Cook lost his case. The Court compared the costs of pro-actively gritting the car park when ice or snow was forecast to the risks of someone slipping and being injured. They found that the costs of pro-active gritting would have been disproportionately expensive. So they concluded that the Council had taken reasonable care to protect visitors to the car park with their policy of re-active gritting.

Although Mr Cook lost his claim against the Council, there are many examples of injured people winning their claims after being involved in an accident in a public place as a result of the failure of the occupier to ensure that the premises were safe for visitors.

Accidents at work and occupiers liability

An accident at work doesn't fall under occupiers liability, this would instead fall under employers liability.

Under employers liability law, an employer has a duty of care to provide their workers with a safe place to work. This means ensuring that their work processes are safe, they have well maintained and appropriate tools and equipment to carry out their work and that their fellow workers are competent. If a worker is working in away from their employer’s place of work, their employer still has a duty to ensure that workplace is reasonably safe for their employees. If they don't and the worker is injured, the employer could be found to blame.

Similarly any person who has control of the workplace where the worker is contracted out to work has a duty of care to that worker. Under the Workplace Regulations 1992, they will need to ensure that the workplace and equipment is maintained, is in efficient working order and is in good repair. If they are not and the worker is injured, the person who has control of the premises will be liable for the breach of the Regulation and the injured worker may be able to bring a claim against them. This claim could be made on the basis that the person who has control of the premises has breached the Workplace Regulations, and therefore this is evidence of negligence.

If you are injured when working somewhere that is under your employer’s control, you may be entitled to make an Employer’s Liability Claim instead.

Making an occupiers liability claim if you suffer an injury

If you are injured in an accident on premises under the control of an ‘occupier’ and the accident was caused by the occupier not upholding their duty of care, then you may be entitled to make an occupiers liability claim.

If you’re able to, the first thing you should do is report the accident to the management of the premises and ensure that details of the accident are recorded in the accident book. It’s a good idea to take photos of the scene of the accident as well.

If there are other people around who saw the accident take place, the aftermath or the events leading up to the accident then get their contact details. Their eyewitness account could be very valuable in supporting your claim.

At Co-op Legal Services, our personal injury solicitors specialise in handling occupiers liability claims. If you have been injured and you believe that you may be entitled to make an occupiers liability claim, then contact us. We can assess your claim for free and guide you through the next steps.

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