People may not be aware they can make a public liability claim for incidents that occur within their own home under certain circumstances. For example, individuals can pursue a case against tradesmen who perform shoddy work or landlords who fail to provide a safe living environment.
A recent case in NSW saw a woman file a claim against her landlord after a poorly fitted kitchen rangehood fell on her while she cleaned the unit. Her landlord, the defendant, had the device installed while she herself was living at the property.
According to the landlord, she enlisted the services of a handyman from the local newspaper and he offered to perform the task for $250 cash in hand. It was not until the landlord later moved out and rented the home to tenants that the accident occurred.
Court documents state the plaintiff, the tenant, injured herself when the rangehood came away from the wall and dropped on her. An expert witness said the unit had only been fitted using two screws, rather than the four suggested in the manufacturer's instructions. However, the original judge ruled the landlord was not negligent in the case, which led to an appeal.
Public liability claim appeal dismissed
The woman's appeal relied on the landlord's alleged negligence for not thoroughly checking the tradesman's suitability to do the job prior to engaging his services. The rangehood fitter could not be found and was not a part of the proceedings.
The appellant's legal team claimed the landlord should have made oral enquiries regarding the man's skills and qualifications. While the appeal judges acknowledged the respondent owed the tenant a duty of care, they argued this was not breached.
In fact, they supported the first judge's decision that the landlord's inexperience with the DIY industry made it difficult to verify the tradesman's ability to perform the task even if she had thoroughly questioned him.
"I do not consider that a reasonable person in the respondent's position would necessarily have made the enquiries identified by the appellant," said Appeal Court Judge Robert Macfarlan. "Certainly, a reasonable person might have done so, but the question posed by [the law] is whether a reasonable person would have taken the relevant precautions.
The complexities of such cases highlights the importance of seeking out experienced compensation lawyers in order to have the best chance of succeeding in public liability claims. Please contact Gerard Malouf & Partners if you would like to receive a free consultation regarding a personal injury you have suffered.