Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Public Liability – Whose Fault Is It Anyway?
Have you ever walked past a footpath where the concrete has lifted or watched several people walk around a spill on the supermarket floor? Ever found yourself saying, “Now there’s an accident waiting to happen.” When a member of the public suffers an injury or loss due to the negligence of another party, that party is liable for that injury or loss. Hence the term, Public Liability. Public Liability insurance is a must for all businesses, large and small to safeguard the public’s interests and, indeed, those of the business. Now we’ve all heard the stories about exorbitant judgements being awarded to people claiming to have been injured due to another’s negligence. Most of the time these claims seem justified, however, there are others that cause our brows to furrow a little as we mutter: “What the…?” For example: A person disobeys an official Council sign forbidding swimming and diving in a rock pool. This person dives in and, after sustaining injuries that render him quadriplegic, sues the Council. Is his multi-million dollar payout justified? Granted, he suffered severe injuries and will need specialised care for the rest of his life but should the Council and, as a direct flow-on, the ratepayers of the area, be forced to pay for his thoughtless folly? Then there’s the hotel patron who left the hotel inebriated and sued the publican after tripping over in the street. Claims like these cause Public Liability insurance premiums to skyrocket and yet, the claimants appear to be at fault. (Perhaps the courts are trying to save government money by not forcing these people into the public health system.) It’s a sad fact that in today’s litigious society, fewer and fewer people are prepared to take responsibility for their own actions. Whether it’s tripping over one’s feet while under the influence of alcohol or diving into shallow water, it seems there must always be someone else to blame. The courts have even been presented with cases brought forward by criminals injured in the course of committing their crimes! Unfortunately, when the public’s attention is drawn to public liability insurance, it is all too often because of these less meritorious types of claims. Little is heard of how genuine claims are brought against truly negligent parties and the effects such negligence has had on claimants’ lives. For example: • After many requests to her landlord to repair the state of her backyard, a young mother tripped on broken and uneven paving, breaking her elbow. Her landlord agreed to settle her claim out of court for a figure that took into account her incapacity to care for her children without domestic help. • An elderly man was seated in a fast food restaurant when his chair suddenly collapsed causing back, leg and chest injuries. His chair, unlike others in the restaurant had been inadequately fastened in place. The restaurant settled the claim and took steps to prevent similar occurrences. And who could forget Erin Brockovich, that David and Goliath type class action bringing a giant corporation to its knees? We love to see the little people win, especially against arrogance and “big bucks”. When someone’s life is turned upside down through no fault of their own, they should receive just and proper care. If the cause of their distress is due to the negligence of another party, that party must bear the burden of such care. Medical treatment, loss of income and loss of quality of life are some consequences of injury taken into account when determining claim settlement details. Public liability insurance is crucial to ensure that a. The injured party gets paid, and b. The ‘at fault’ party is not left bankrupt by the result. With the rising number of public liability claims and the soaring premium costs, however, many businesses are finding it difficult to obtain this type of insurance. In such cases it is recommended to: • Ensure sound risk management. I.e.: take every precaution to lessen the chances of injuries occurring. • Create your own ‘insurance pool’. I.e.: approach similar organisations as yours and apply for insurance as a group with a ready-made ‘insurance pool’ to draw from. • Talk to your broker – it is in his best interests to look after yours. All in all, Public Liability insurance is a necessity in today’s society. It allows for justice to be seen to be done in cases of negligence and calls negligent parties to action in doing all they can to prevent other injuries from occurring in the future. Whose fault is it anyway? With careful risk management, that question need never arise again.