As the old adage goes, accidents happen. While no-one welcomes these mishaps, it’s important to know that if you have an accident in a public place such as a shopping centre, a train station or a council park, and suffer physical and/or psychological injury, you may be able to make a public liability compensation claim.
Such claims can be complex. They require evidence to support your claim that the injury was caused by the accident, not to mention meeting the statutory requirements to make a compensation claim. Did the owner/operator of the place where you had the accident owe you a duty of care, for example? Did they breach that duty when the risk was foreseeable and significant, and a reasonable person in the same position would have taken precautions to avoid it?
Common claims relate to injuries resulting from slips and falls on loose surfaces underfoot, uneven footpaths or unsecured material left on floors, but might also encompass an attack from someone’s dog or food poisoning caused by a retail food outlet.
The advice and guidance of expert compensation professionals such as Bourke Love Lawyers can be indispensable to making a successful claim.
What should you do if you have an accident in a public place?
When you have an accident such as a bad trip and fall somewhere in public, it’s natural you’re going to feel disoriented and possibly traumatised. Your first instinct and first priority, of course, is to assess your injury and work out whether you need medical attention.
But if you have the presence of mind, or have a companion with you, it’s important to try and collect some on-the-scene evidence of the circumstances which may have caused the accident, as well as taking a couple of other of actions. This might include:
- Taking photos of the area in which the accident occurred and any possible cause, such as loose produce on the floor in a supermarket, or a broken tile.
- Speaking with and collecting the contact details of any witnesses to the incident.
- Collecting the details of the owner, operator, business or local council that maintains control of the area where your injury has occurred. Getting their insurance policy details is also helpful, although your legal representative can also help in this regard.
- Reporting the injury to the owner or operator of the venue. Large shopping centres and similar commercial premises will generally have a formal accident reporting process which will require you to fill out and sign a document recording details of the accident.
After you’ve been injured and leave the scene of the incident it’s important to keep all records relating to the injury, such as receipts for the costs of medical treatment, travel to and from the doctor’s, etc.
What are the next steps?
Most public places where people might sustain an injury for which the venue is liable are obliged by law to carry public liability insurance to cover such events. Therefore, when you make a claim for compensation against a shopping centre, for example, it will be assessed by the centre’s insurer.
If the venue accepts liability for your injury, compensation can provide you recompense for the costs of emergency medical treatment, rehabilitation such as counselling and physiotherapy, and lost earnings as a result of being unable to work because of the injury.
This process can only commence once your legal representative has collected all of the relevant evidence (photos, witness statements, accident reports, etc.), your injury has been assessed by a qualified medical practitioner, and the party ultimately responsible for your injury (the one who owed you a duty of care) has been correctly identified. An insurer may require you to attend an additional medical examination with a specialist of its choosing, to verify your injury claims.
Once the insurer has investigated your claim, it will decide whether to accept liability for your injury in full or in part, or it may deny that the insured party is liable for your injuries.
Proper legal representation is vital whether an insurer, admits or denies a claim, or accepts only partial responsibility. At Bourke Love we take the stress and time out of this part of the claim by negotiating with the insurer on your behalf. Sometimes a person’s injuries may deteriorate some time after the accident, or only emerge in a serious way some time afterwards, which may change the nature of the claim.
When the insurer responds, we can also help by giving you a realistic assessment of how much money you might be entitled to as a settlement from the insurer, and whether further negotiation is necessary. The aim is to avoid court proceedings because of the time, cost and stress involved, although court action may still be a last resort if the insurer refuses to agree to a settlement.
The Civil Liability Act
In NSW claims for public liability compensation are subject to the Civil Liability Act (‘the Act’), which legislates that claims can be made to cover loss of past and future earnings, pain and suffering, medical expenses, including rehabilitation costs and travel, and domestic assistance.
Damages for ‘non-economic loss’, such as pain and suffering as a result of the accident, are only awarded for injuries that are at least 15 per cent of a most extreme case.
The Act provides maximum amounts claimable for non-economic loss, and for weekly amounts payable for lost earnings (based on your pre-accident earnings).
The need to act promptly
Time limits apply to public liability compensation claims: an injured person must make the claim within three years of the accident occurring or when action was discoverable and this is the same time limit for a minor.
Making a public liability claim can be a time-consuming and complicated process. At Bourke Love Lawyers, we reduce your stress and free your time by doing the necessary legwork for you: gathering supporting evidence, guiding you through medical assessments, negotiating with the insurer and advocating for you in court if necessary.
We do all we can to ensure our clients’ claims have the best possible chance of success. If you’ve recently been injured in a public place and believe it was the fault of the venue, contact us today on 1300 15 15 45 or visit us at bourkelove.com.au for a free initial consultation.