Public Liability Claims

What are Public Liability Claims?

There are many different ways to categorise claims under the law of negligence. Those which take place in private property generally fall under the heading of occupiers’ liability, while workplace accidents are usually covered by employers liability. If the incident which caused your injury took place on the public highway, however, it is generally best to investigate what are commonly known as public liability claims.

Suing Your Local Authority

Under the Highways Act 1980, the appropriate local authority has a statutory duty to maintain the public highway and see that it is kept in a reasonable state of repair. The legislation defines a public highway as a road, pavement or path which the public are entitled to use, and which is maintained at their expense. It is that element of ‘public expense’ which makes the local council responsible for ensuring the upkeep of the highway, and creates its liability for accidents which occur on it. In essence, the legislation creates a duty of care upon the council which applies to all users of the highway. When broken, by lack of maintenance which causes an injury, members of the public become able to sue the local authority for negligence and claim damages.

Potential Defences

It can be difficult to claim against a local authority, however, as the legislation also contains a potential defence against any public liability claims. If the council has undertaken a regular system of inspection which is deemed to be satisfactory by the courts, then it cannot be liable for negligence. This is because the highway system is so extensive that to hold the council responsible for every accident would soon bankrupt the public purse. For this reason, local authorities can only be sued for defects which they reasonably should have spotted and fixed. In order to make a case for this in court, you will require photographic evidence of the defect, but also evidence from witnesses that the problem in question has been in existence for a long time without being fixed – preferably over six months.

You also have a right to inspect the records which the council is obligated to hold about its repair activities. This can be particularly useful if you suspect that the local authority has actually caused the defect itself through faulty repair work, or that it has inspected the area recently but failed to spot an obvious problem. Such issues can greatly strengthen any claim you might make.

Claiming Damages

Whilst founding a claim in negligence against your local authority can be more difficult than in other areas of the law, such cases have the advantage of guaranteed compensation in the event of success. Not only do local authorities have deep pockets, but they are also required to maintain public liability insurance. The amount of money you receive will depend upon the nature of your injuries, and also whether you have suffered other expenses as a result of the incident, such as loss of earnings and the cost of medical care.

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