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Claiming compensation for an injury suffered in a public place

Businesses and organisations which allow members of the public onto their premises have a duty to ensure that, as far as possible, they are protected from the risk of harm. Local authorities are also under a duty to ensure the safety of members of the public using any areas or facilities for which they are responsible. So what rights of redress do you have where there is a failure to comply with this duty and you are injured as a result? Claire Simon, personal injury expert at QualitySolicitors Parkinson Wright explains:

‘If you are injured in a public place because the organisation responsible for looking after it has failed in their duty to take reasonable steps to prevent an accident occurring, it may be possible for you to claim compensation.  How much you will receive will depend on the seriousness of the injury, the impact it has had on you and whether you were in any way to blame.’

‘Talking to a solicitor as soon as an accident happens can help you to find out quickly if a claim may be possible and to begin the process of seeking the compensation you deserve.  They can also help you access any treatment you may need to aid your recovery or to help you cope with a temporary or permanent disability.’

What counts as a ‘public place’?

A public place is anywhere that members of the public can be expected to visit, including public parks, playgrounds and leisure facilities, supermarkets, shops and retail complexes, schools, colleges, nurseries, hospitals and publicly-maintained roads and pavements.

How do public place accidents occur?

Accidents in public places occur for a variety of reasons.  For example, there may have been a failure to carry out a risk assessment to identify and repair potential slip, trip or fall hazards.  It may be that there has been a failure to test and maintain equipment or to ensure the correct installation of fixtures and fittings. It could also be that there has been a failure to ensure the prompt repair of surface areas known to be damaged or to display adequate warning signs to take care or to avoid use.  

Who is responsible for the public places I visit?

Establishing who is responsible for looking after a public place is usually fairly straightforward.  For example, most roads and pavements will be the responsibility of the local authority and most shops and supermarkets will be the responsibility of the businesses that occupy them or those who own the buildings in which they are situated. 

Difficulties in determining responsibility may arise where the ownership or maintenance of a public place has been transferred, for example to a facilities management company or to a community group, and it is unclear who was in charge at the time your injury occurred. 

How easy is it to establish fault?

Proving that the owner or operator of a public place has failed in their duty to protect you from harm can be difficult because you will need to consider the extent of the duty they owe to you and whether they have a defence to your claim because they have acted reasonably in trying to comply with this duty.  

For example, the duty owed by local authorities when it comes to roads and pavements is to ensure that they are regularly inspected for problems, are adequately maintained and kept free from obstruction, and that where a hazard is observed or reported it is repaired within a reasonable time.  

To establish a failure to comply with this duty you will need to show a number of things, depending on how your injury was sustained.  For instance, where you have tripped over an uneven paving slab you will need to prove, among other things, that:

  • at the time of the accident the slab was protruding above the ground by at least one inch;
  • if the council was aware that the slab might cause a problem, they failed to deal with it within a reasonable time; or
  • if they were unaware of the problem but did know that the stability of pavements generally might be affected (for example, by poor weather conditions), they unreasonably failed to increase the frequency of their inspections to prevent pavements under their care falling into such a state of disrepair that they posed a risk to public safety.

How will a solicitor help me to obtain compensation?

The first step in dealing with your compensation claim will be to find out exactly what has happened and who was to blame.  Investigations will therefore be carried out by your solicitor and evidence gathered to establish that a duty of care was owed, that the duty was not complied with and that you have suffered injury and loss as a result. 

The next step will be to assess the severity of your injury and the corresponding level of compensation you are entitled to for your pain and suffering and for loss of earnings.  A claim can also be made to reimburse you for any expenses you have incurred, for example in travelling to and from hospital for treatment.

The owners and operators of public spaces are obliged to take out public liability insurance so initial negotiations in respect of your claim will usually take place with the insurers.  It is only if liability for your injury is denied, or a dispute arises over the amount of compensation you should receive, that you might need to go to court.

There are strict time limits for bringing a personal injury claim, so if you are thinking about pursuing compensation we recommend that you seek legal advice as soon as you can.

For help with a personal injury claim, please contact Claire Simon on 01905 721600 or via email


The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only.  They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  The law may have changed since this article was published.   Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

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