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The majority of ‘slip and trip’ claims (correctly know as Public Liability claims) tend to be made against Local Authorities and Councils. The duty of care to maintain footpaths to a safe standard falls under the Highways Departments of the Councils of the UK. In basic terms, the law can hold the Council liable for injuries caused by a fall on a public footpath if a few basic criteria are met.
These criteria include the height or depth of a hazard (hole or raised edge) on a footpath, the fact that it has been in situ for a certain length of time (usually a claimant must be able to demonstrate that a hazard on a footpath has been in situ for a minimum of 6 months) and that the council have failed to carry out adequate inspection regimes.
Slip and trip claims – who should foot the bill?
Such criteria are fair in anyone’s book. We know that Council’s have miles and miles of footpaths and road surfaces to check and maintain. They can’t possibly be expected to repair any damaged or dangerous surface within hours, days or weeks of it becoming a problem. Therefore, to allow many months to carry out inspections and then action necessary repairs is very fair indeed. So, if the council’s fail in their statutory duty to provide safe and well maintained footpaths, who foots the bill?
Local Authorities are covered by Public Liability Insurance and it will often be the PL insurance company who foot the bill if their client is proven to have been negligent and at cause for an injury. However, we often hear stories in the media regarding the amount of council tax payers money that has to be kept aside to ‘pay off compensation claims’. This story is often touted around the media as if to say it is terrible and a rip-off – almost as if it was designed to put people off from claiming. So, why would this story be presented in the way it is – another personal injury compensation myth?
Approaching public liability claims the wrong way
Clearly, the councils are always under pressure to spend money in their regions. Everyone wants a piece of the pie and there is only so much pie to go around. In our view, Councils shouldn’t be putting money aside to cover potential claims – if they are doing that, it indicates that they know that they are likely to receive claims because they have not made an area claim proof! I don’t understand this. Surely, it would be beneficial and far cheaper in the long run, for a Council to spend money ensuring that the pavements in their area are well maintained, employ a sufficient numbers of inspectors to inspect the pavements in their area and report back any faults that are liable to be ‘claimable’ and then spend the money on making their pavements and parks claim proof.
Sure, you can never make anything 100% claim proof, but you can go a lot further than some of the councils of our country have done. You see, they don’t need to set £5 million big ones aside to settle claims. They need to continually invest in repairs, inspections and renewals of footpaths and the like on an annual basis. If this was done, the volume of genuine Public Liability ‘slip and trip’ claims would fall and thus, the insurance premiums and council costs would drop too. Simple isn’t it?
Don’t blame the injured party
To me it seems that the publishing of the story about how much money is set aside to compensate victims of personal injury accidents, is aimed at blaming them for the cost and to increase the belief in the myth of the Compensation Culture. Maybe the thinking behind it is ‘if we can make people feel bad about taking tax payers money and that if they do, they are not really entitled to it, they won’t claim’? This is an odd mentality and it seems that some parties want personal injury compensation and claiming of it to be seen as unethical – something it most certainly is not.
If people are injured because a footpath has been left to rot or not been resurfaced and repaired, or tree root growth that has lifted paving slabs and created a minefield for the elderly and children has not been tended to within a reasonable time, why shouldn’t someone claim compensation? I know that if I fell on a bad pavement and sustained a broken arm or ankle, I would want to claim. Why should I be unable to earn my wages because the council that I pay my council taxes to, have failed to repair a pavement?
Doing our part
Clearly, we the general public of UK Ltd, need to give our councils help. If we spot dangerous pavements with a hazardous appearance, we MUST inform our Highways Department. By reporting things to the right people, we are ensuring that the Councils know about the hazards in their areas and can make them safe.
If they then fail to attend the area and make the relevant repairs, then they have no-one to blame other than themselves when their insurance premiums go up and claims are made against them.