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Slips, Trips and Falls – Accidents in a Public Place

Having an accident in a public space in Birmingham can leave someone with many questions, particularly in relation to who is responsible for the accident. By their nature, public spaces are designed to be places where many people will pass through on a daily basis. This susceptibility of public spaces to heavy traffic increases the likelihood of an accident happening. It is because of this that it is important to be very aware of what a public space is, and who is responsible for its maintenance and for any accidents that take place.

What is a public space?

This may seem like a silly question to ask, but it is actually incredibly important. Depending on whether or not an area is deemed in law to be a public space, will have implication on who is responsible for any accident that takes place. A ‘public space’ is any area or premises that is built with the purpose of being made use of by the general public. Examples of what is often deemed to be a ‘public space’ include roads (car accident claims are different), pavements, public squares and even parks.

Who is responsible for an accident in a public space?

Where an accident takes place in a public space e.g. a slip or fall on a road, a trip on a pavement or in a park, generally in Birmingham this will be the responsibility of the City Council.

City Councils are charged with the provision of services to their respective areas, and this will include the upkeep of these facilities e.g. parks, roads etc. As a result they will have in place a special kind of insurance called ‘Public Liability Insurance’. This is designed in such a way so as to allow for accident claim compensation to be paid to an injured party, if it is necessary, because the City Council has not discharged its obligations in a satisfactory manner. Any claim against a City Council will be against their public liability.

What needs to be proven?

It was mentioned above that an injury claim against a City Council is against their public liability for public spaces, and that compensation would only be available if is was necessary in a particular instance. The important point here is that before a City Council will be deemed liable for an accident in a public place, it must be proven that the City Council was negligent.

As mentioned above negligence on the part of the City Council needs to be shown before there can be any discussion on compensation. This where the skills of a Birmingham personal injury solicitor come in.  Negligence has a particular meaning. To be negligent a City Council needs to be shown to have been unreasonable in allowing a public space to fall into disrepair, and could case injury to someone using that space.

Historically it could be quite difficulty to prove that a City Council had been negligent by allowing an accident in a public place – it could be a very long and at times expensive process, in attempting to gather sufficient evidence to demonstrate negligence. However this area of law has been changed, to make the process of establishing negligence more straightforward. In the UK by law, City Councils are obliged to keep public spaces in good condition. This means that there is very little ‘wriggle room’ for City Councils, and that there is a ‘statutory duty’ – an obligation imposed by law – on City Councils to keep the areas they are responsible for in good condition.

What is the process?

In recent years circumstances have caused City Councils to be much more aware of their responsibilities, and many have developed their own bespoke procedures for dealing with complaints of accidents in public places. There are many reasons for this, but it is in part concerned with helping the public to understand what their City Councils are responsible for and how to go about voicing concerns. It is through these processes that City Councils and members of the public should be able to resolve disputes, without having to resort to court action.

The process for making a complaint about an accident in a public place can be slightly different for each city Council. However the standards in law remain the same, and members of the public must be able to provide evidence that the City Council was negligent. Generally most City Councils will ask that members of the public contact them directly about any accident. It is helpful if any and all information regarding the accident is available, so to allow for the Council to conduct its investigation of the claim. Photographic evidence of the place where an accident took place, and details of any witnesses will be very helpful in demonstrating negligence.

As mentioned above internal procedures for dealing with complaints will vary. However all City Councils will attempt to deal with a complaint as efficiently as possible, and are likely to follow the following steps:

1. Receive details of an accident in a public place;
a. Anyone contacting the council will be asked to provide, as mentioned above, as much evidence as possible e.g. location, witnesses, kind of injury etc.

2. The complaint will be passed to either the Legal or Insurance department of the City Council who will then conduct an investigation; and

3. The Council will issue its findings. This will normally be a report outlining the result of its investigations and any compensation that is deemed appropriate.

The City Council will have conducted a thorough investigation of the complaint, and will only issue compensation if it is satisfied that it was at fault. However if it is not and does not offer compensation, or the compensation offered is not acceptable, it is still an option to raise a Personal Injury action against the City Council.

How to raise a PI Claim in the courts?

Bringing a PI claim before the courts follows a very similar process to that of satisfying the requirements of city councils for their internal investigations. A court will need to be satisfied that a City Council has been negligent. Regardless of the kind of public space that an accident takes place, it will be very helpful if evidence e.g. photographs, hospital records of injuries, witness statements and contact details can all be made available to the court.

* other costs could be payable