Public liability - facts you should know before claiming

Date:Aug 30, 2011

In Australia, the topic of public liability refers to an accident that results in injury to a person.

Injury is a broad term defined by the Civil Liability Act 2005 as being "harm".

It can be applied to physical wounds received by a victim, damage inflicted on a person's property and can even be used in the context of an accident that results in measurable economic loss.

When a compensation lawyer is considering the validity of a particular case, they will usually need to assess the extent of an injury, whether they be financial, mental, physical or even pre-natal - as potential damage to unborn children is also covered by the law.

Extending from this, the owner or occupier of a specific piece of property is regarded as having a certain duty of care to the people who may be interacting with their assets. This obliges them to take precautions that prevent an accident occurring.

If an incident occurs that results in a person being harmed, the courts can take a number of factors into account.

Firstly, they will need to determine whether the accident was foreseeable, meaning that they need to identify if the potential risk of injury was obvious to a reasonable person.

Next, the courts would most likely consider just how significant the risk posed by the current state of the property was.

As an example, an uneven stack of papers could be said to pose less of a risk than a pile of rusty corrugated iron, simply because the metal had the greater potential to cause harm.

Another consideration would be just how an ordinary person would have acted if faced with the situation that resulted in harm.

If it can be shown that the owner or occupier of a particular piece of property did not exercise the same degree of caution or failed to act in a manner similar to that of a "reasonable person", then they may be found to be publicly liable.

When determining the exact nature of a reasonable response to a potentially harmful situation, a personal injury lawyer may consider a number of points.

The probability of an accident occurring and the degree of injury likely to result would need to be covered by a successful claim.

Another point would be to determine the onus or burden of liability of a particular asset.

Whether it be private or public property, the responsibility will usually lie with either the owner or the occupier.