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Public Liability Claim Examples

by Dave Collins on September 26, 2016

Most businesses choose to insure themselves against public liability claims.  Although insurance is not a necessary evil of conducting business, claims for any injuries a customer or general member of the public incurs while in the vicinity of your business, your parking lot, or any other public spaces on your lot can be quite expensive.  With most claims running in the six-figure settlement arena, many small businesses choose to purchase policies covering millions of dollars of public liability insurance.

Typical examples of public liability claims include:

  • Injuries due to uneven sidewalks, driveways, paths, steps, or stairs.  For example, a customer who trips on a loose brick in a walkway could open a claim for injuries.
  • Injuries due to slipping, tripping, or falling within your store/business or on your public grounds (restrooms, gardens, cafeterias).  For example, a customer who slips in a grocery store aisle could sue for injuries.
  • Injuries from falling objects that occur on your property.  Even non-customers who walk by your property could open a claim.  For example, a member of the general public who walks by a construction site and is hit by a falling hammer can open a claim against the construction company.

However, many other public liability claims may occur in situations that do not fall into any of the above categories.  Property damage due to business practices also falls under public liability claims.  These claims can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • A mechanic who makes house calls works on the brakes of a customer’s truck.  As he tests the brakes, he drives into the back of the customer’s garage.  The mechanic is responsible for the repairs.
  • A lawyer based in an office suite has a window air conditioner, and it falls from the window due to improper installation.  The shop below her has an expensive commercial awning, and the unit rips through the awning.  The lawyer is responsible for the damages.
  • A horse trainer works on a five-acre plot connected to a neighboring orchard.  A horse breaks free and tramples a full acre of newly planted seedlings.  The trainer is responsible for the seedlings.

Other public liability cases are opened because of defective products.  One of the most famous cases is the McDonald’s hot coffee case in which a customer spilled hot coffee in her lap, receiving third-degree burns.  McDonald’s was forced to pay almost three million dollars in punitive and compensatory damages for maintaining their coffee at a dangerous190-degree temperature.  Other defective or dangerous product cases include:

  • Defective children’s toys.  Recently, some toys made in China were recalled for high levels of lead in the product.
  • Defective food.  A few years ago, many dog food companies recalled their food for defective product.
  • Defective electrical equipment.  In 2010, Whirlpool recalled a dishwasher series with a possible defective chip.  The dishwashers were all potentially dangerous, as the chip had been proven to start the dishwasher on fire.

With so many examples of injuries, property damage, and defective products, it is not surprising that the majority of businesses choose to protect themselves from unknown and unforeseen costs of conducting business: public liability claims.

{ 50 comments }

EDWARD LJUBICICI November 2, 2010 at 4:30 pm

My son has fallen out of a window whilst sleep walking. He has sustained serious tear to bladder and will need upto six weeks of work. He lives in a rented property. His landlord has told his wife that he checked to see if a possible claim could be made against his public liability but was told because the house is over 30 years old, the windows don,t apply to Australian Government standards. Would this be correct?

admin November 2, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Not necessarily, common law and statute law, ie the requirement to identify and control risks could override minimum standards. Recent claims have been made against Housing Dept for not installing hand railing on an older house in accordance with current standards. I cant make any more comments without knowing the full details

See our article here http://www.safetyrisk.com.au/2010/06/18/balustrade-and-railing-height-regulations/

EDWARD LJUBICICI November 2, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Son falling out of window of rented home which is over 30 years old. Is landlord liable through his public liabilty even though home,s window doesnt conform to Australian Standards now in place for window height. My son will be off work for upto 8 weeks.

gemma almoradie boyer December 2, 2010 at 7:22 am

my husband met an accident in a steps the steps break and he fall and broke his wrists we are trying to claim for a worksafe but we are rejected can we claim for liability as this happened to their place. He is a shearer and he supposed to shear the sheep but did not started yet because he met this accident.

what can you advise can we sue them for public liability?

admin December 2, 2010 at 8:46 am

Was he an employee? If he was then who rejected the Worksafe claim. Was it Worksafe or did the employer just say he couldn’t claim?

If not an employee, then he may be able to make a claim for negligence if what you are saying is true and he had the accident on their premises, due to faulty stairs? (not at your home?). If there was nothing wrong with the stairs then it will probably be very difficult to make a claim. I cannot give you legal advice or any advice without more information – you should go and see a lawyer as soon as possible.

Kitten11 March 3, 2011 at 2:19 pm

My daughter was injured when in a retail store change room, a broken security tag with a sharp point got embedded in her foot and could not be removed without a paramedic being called. Interestingly this happened to another girl in the next cubicle at the same time!
She has costs such as the ambulance charge, lost wages for the day and limping has caused a hurt back and needed to go to a chiro. The total amount is just under $600. Numerous calls and a letter of demand to the owner of the store are basically being ignored. They are citing they are waiting for thier insurer to advise.
Do we need to wait this process? or should the owner pay up first and if they can claim thats their problem? and can we insist on finding out who the insurance company is as we doubt this has been submitted and we are being given the run around.

michael April 21, 2011 at 2:59 am

While riding my mountain bike i became caught up in electricial wriing from a light pole mound. My left foot and bike pedal got caught in the wiring causing me to fall on my right side, injurys to my shoulder and collar bone. The wiring from the light pole mound was 24 cm out from where it should of been and also bolts on the ground as well.
A witness saw me fall hard. There was no signage,cover and any safety for the public.
I have taken pictures,seen doctors as well.
After informing the council of this matter 36 hours later the area was concreated and all wiring fixied up and a light pole put up asap…. Do i have a solid case

admin April 21, 2011 at 7:24 am

It can be very difficult to sue a Council, otherwise they would be sued for every pothole, tree root and crack in the footpath. You have to prove that they were negligent ie should have known about it and should have fixed it. They could argue you were involved in a sport with known risks or were riding off the designated path?????????????? I cant really comment without knowing thye full story. First thing to do is write to them and seek compensation for your medical bills and any damage to your bike, follow up with several phone calls to the right person and not the receptionist (ie General Manager, Engineering Manager or Risk Manager). If no response then see a Lawyer who will decide if you have a case. Be aware that it could be a long drawn out process and any payout could be eaten up by fees. If you are involved in such sports then you should have accident insurance and let your insurance company fight the Council.

simon flaherty May 2, 2011 at 10:45 pm

i was standing on a fence in my backyard of rental property retrieving a football out of a tree, when the fence gave way and i took a fall, resulting in my foot being severely cut, straight through nerves and sliced into my tendon down to the bone across the top of my foot, and then landed on my other foot which is severely sprained. spending 5 days in hospital and having to have emergency surgery, my doctor has told me my foot will never be the same (feeling and movement) and as i am a builder, this is not good news for my work. My landlord and real estate agent had told us upon moving in last june (2010) that they would fix the fences within the first few weeks and has not ever been done! the fence i fell from is ajoining to a service station and is only 1500 high and i have since been told by a friend that the surrounding perimeter of a servo should be at least 2m high and sturdy!! So what i would like to know is, if i am up for any public liability payouts as im not able to work for a while, and may possibly never be able to do some jobs in my field

admin May 3, 2011 at 9:03 am

Firstly, you arent automatically “up for any public liability payouts” unless you successfully make a claim against the landlord and/or the Service Station Owner. To be successful you need to prove they were negligent by knowing about the risk and doing nothing reasonable about warning you and/or fixing it. They could argue that they discharged their duty of care by warning you about the fence (ie saying it needed replacement). It could also be argued that you contributed significantly to the incident by climbing on the fence when you knew it was in poor condition. This arguement could be strengthened by the fact you are a Builder and could reasonably be expected to recognise an unsafe structure?

You would have to speak to a Lawyer about making a claim. Make sure you collect all relevent documenation, photographs etc. Including any correspondence. Whenever someone promises to do something you should get it in writing and then follow up in writing if it is not done as promised.

Tenielle Peyroux June 22, 2011 at 11:07 am

Hi I slipped in Kmart on a coat hanger and popped my knee out i reported it to Kmart manager, i have been to all my doctors appointments and an Orthopedic Surgeon who has advised me that i need a knee reconstruction for my ACL Ligament, Meniscus and Cracked cartilage. My lawyers secretery said i have to wait 6 months after surgery to see what the real damage of my knee was and how its affected my everyday duties eg life style. Is that how the process goes?? Do they do it that way to get more money?

Thanks

admin June 22, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Hi
Unfortunately that is pretty much how it goes, your Lawyer would/should have put up a fight otherwise – its not necessarily Kmart but their Lawyer/insurers wanting to determine the actual long term cost to you ie loss of income, it could work out better for you if your injuries are more found to be more debilitating or permanent rather than just cut you a cheque now??. These things can go on for years. I dont know what state you are in but your lawyer is the best one to advise.

Vicki August 19, 2011 at 2:49 pm

My husband hit his head at work on a metal bar. 2 weeks later he required surgery for a subdural haematoma. He was cleared by the surgeon & GP to recommence work – returning to full duties after being on workers comp for 3 months. He advised the Labor Hire company that he had been cleared to return to work but they advised him they no longer had any work/positions available for him! Now he is unable to find work – no one is prepared to hire a 61 year old who has just recovered from brain surgery – the workcover claim has been closed and he is not entitled to any benefit. Are we able to lodge a liability claim against the ‘host’ work site? There was no site induction carried out by the labor hire company or the ‘host’ employer. The metal bar that he hit his head on is very low and requires bending down to access the area my husband was working in. Comments by other workers suggested he was not the first one to hit there head on this metal bar. My husband reported the accident to the warehouse manager – but no incident/accident report was filled out!!!! I’ll look forward to your views regarding this ‘mess’!

admin August 20, 2011 at 6:42 am

Labour Hire personnel and/or their work comp insurers have successfully claimed against host employers. It may be an issue that you have already had a Workcover claim. You really need to talk to a lawyer about making a claim against the host employer, you may have a case but be prepared for a long battle.

Ben October 27, 2011 at 12:07 am

Hi there, my mother recently slipped over in a pile of squashed grapes and other liquid at a very large supermarket chain. As my mother fell, she hit her back on a stand on the way down. She has had x-rays and found a fracture in her back with cuts and bruises on her back and arm. She could not get herself up when it happened and now has trouble walking. A customer in the store got the manager and made my mother report it. There were no signs at the shop saying “slippery floor” etc. I have had to cut back on my days at work to get her around to the Drs, do her shopping, help around the house and walk her dog as she cant even do that anymore. She had to miss several of her grandkids events as its to much for her now..
Is there anything she can do in regards to this incident as its very frustrating and we don’t know where to turn.
Thanks for your time, Ben

admin November 4, 2011 at 2:00 pm

All you can do is see a lawyer and make a claim against the retailer – but it wll be a long and expensive process

Robert meade November 3, 2011 at 6:57 pm

I am 22 years old I have a current compensation claim as my back have compressed disks causing nerve compression from heavy lifting. I was walking across a predestrian crossing and I tripped on a mound of tar in the middle of the crossing I have serverly hurt my back again it was getting beter slowly (6 months off work) now I find myself in bed unable to move. Do I have a case?

admin November 4, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Hard for me to say without all teh info. You really need to talk to a lawyer

Deb January 27, 2012 at 12:59 pm

my mother sustained serious injury when the taxi driver of a medicab pressed the wrong button and she fell backwards out of the medicab onto the bitumen while still in her wheelchair. How do i make a PL claim againsta the comapny without a lawyer?

admin January 27, 2012 at 2:00 pm

You can try writing to them outlining what your medical expenses were and they may assist you. But if you are after anything else then you have no real option but to take legal action

Rebecca hall March 20, 2012 at 4:52 pm

If next door leave their tap on and it floods my house.
I make a claim, do i have to pay a premium to my or there insurance company?
Kind regards,
Bec

admin April 20, 2012 at 10:31 am

you should make a claim through your insurance company and they will then recover the money from your neighbour or their insurer, including your excess

Nigel Forshaw April 2, 2012 at 7:07 pm

2 weeks ago in heavy rain, I slipped over coming down the car park access ramp of my apartment building after taking out the rubbish. i went up in the air and landed on the flat car park entrance breaking my arm at the elbow and big bruising to my hip, I had an operation a few days ago and will be off work for up to 4 months, it required implants. The driveway has not been cleaned by pressure blaster and there is buildup up of grime and rust, as this is not a normal foot access, do I have a case fpr P/Liability ? It is the closest access to the rubbish skip and the other entrances are more slippery with tiles, but they do have wet floor signs displayed, the access ramp has no signs. thank you

admin April 20, 2012 at 10:28 am

Unfortunately you have to prove thay were negligent. If you can prove that they knew that the only access to the bins was hazardous and did nothing to remove teh hazard or warn you of it then you may have a case – you need to engage a solicitor

tl April 12, 2012 at 11:01 pm

i slipped over in a major shop in 2009 and have had on going problems my solicitor said we are going through public liability, just wondering how much would we be expecting to get in a pay out after everything is taken out. i can not get any work due to my injury my empolyer sacked me as i was taking too much time off and i was on a dr’s certificate at the time.

admin April 20, 2012 at 10:26 am

Sorry to hear that, unfortunately it is a long drawn out process and you could imagine no-one is in a hurry to pay you. There is no way I can predict your payout – it could go either way but I imagine legal fees would take a big chunk

Maureen April 19, 2012 at 5:20 pm

Hi there, one year ago I fell down the stairs at local shopping centre. I could not get up and 2 people lifted me up and held me until husband came back. It was whilst they were holding me that I realised the stairs were wet obviously from people walking up from underground car park with cars coming in out of the rain. It was not raining when we came into the shops. There were no signs saying WET STAIRS. My husband took me straight to the surgery as I was in immense pain. I had both feet bandaged and was given crutches.Had XRAY – no broken bones. We were booked to fly overseas a day and a half later for a once in a lifetime holiday. Did not want to lose airfares so did not cancel. Was in immense pain and had to buy shoes one size larger than normal. Things I could not do on holiday and missed out on so much – but that is life. I was in pain for about 5 months in total. One year later all I am offered is $2000. Does that sound fair to you.

admin April 20, 2012 at 10:24 am

Hard for me to say – was that an ofer you accepted directly from the shopping centre or did your lawyer settle on that?

Dean April 24, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Hello,

I was visiting a business site and tripped over a concrete bollard in the car park causing sever lacerations to my face hands and legs, the bollards have since been removed (with 24 hours of the incident).
I was transferred to hospital via ambulance,this incident occurred interstate in Queensland, & I live in NSW are the laws different state to state. What is my best course of action

Thanks

admin April 24, 2012 at 7:26 pm

Did you report it to the people in charge of the site? That should be done asap and collect any evidence like photos and witness statements. Also write down in your own words exactly what happened – any court case could happen in years time and things may be hard to remember. You should write to the owners/managers of the site and see how they respond. I doubt you will get anymore than an apology. Common law duty of care is similar everywhere just the claim process varies = you need to talk to a lawyer

Tony T June 20, 2012 at 10:50 pm

I ruptured my achilles tendon whilst undertaking physical remedial training at a physio clinic for strength training. I was training under supervision of a physio therapist in a class of 3 participants. I was given immediate treatment (ice) and subsequent days treatment only to be sent to get ultrasounds and off to the orthopedic specialist after a week of no improvement who put me into emergency surgery apon visit. My insurance has covered some costs and I have paid all out of pocket expenses. They have offered complimentary treatment until I heal, possibly could take a year although is agreement is verbal and I am yet to advise them of my medical and home care costs. Naturally my life has been in convened and much levels of pain being dealt with for now and time to come. Should I proceed with a letter of demand or should I be making a liability claim?

admin June 21, 2012 at 9:21 am

Tony – – to make a successful claim you have to prove they did something negligent. Did they properly induct or warn you of the risks? Were they properly supervising you at the time? Did you do something they may have advised against doing? Did they tell you directly to do something that caused the injury? Was it a pre existing condition?

Chris Walker July 9, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Hi
3 months ago I tripped in a pothole on the path to the tee at my golf club
I reported the accident and have been having treatment for soft tissue and tendon damage to my foot which is still ongoing
I have been told to wear an ankle brace for next 3-6 months
The pothole was not repaired for over 3 weeks & I have requested meeting with whoever can discuss reparation but feel am getting run-around
Could you advise on estimated damages for me to discuss.
I have advised the club that I am not after suing for money just recompense in the form of extended membership. Alternatively, as I am a pensioner could you refer to a Gold Coast firm that could assist me
Regards Chris Walker

admin July 9, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Hello Chris

Please take my comments as information not advice as I dont know the full circumstances. Most of the Golf Clubs I know on the Gold Coast use a third party claims administrator who should have been in touch with you immediately IF the Club reported it to them? Based on what you have said, I would write to the General Manager outlining what happened and your request. If they are smart then they will respond as I think you are being fair. If not then you could see a lawyer but I am unable to recommend any.

Chris Walker July 9, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Hi Admin
You have confirmed that I was being reasonable in my original approach and can only assume that I am being strung along
thank you very much for your speedy reply and your advice
Kind regards Chris

sam joens August 24, 2012 at 5:47 pm

i had a fall wilst at work i sustained a back injury fracture and L3 L4 L5 S1 disc prud cant walk dress drive sleep play with the kids and i did try to go back to light duites due to i couldnt handle staying at home i worked as much as i could then couldnt stand or sit i had to lay down every 5 to 10 min so then i became totally unfit to work .
my accident happend while i was working for a cleaning company in westfeilds as polishing the floors at night then was called to the bin room by the supervisor to help move otto bins arround due to Mc donallds workers dumping bins of cooking oil into them instead of using the oil pit as me and a co worker was mooving the otto bins arround the westfeilds supervisors were recording the spill as this was not the 1st time Mcdonallds had done this.Any way i had lost my footing pulling 1 of many otto bins fell flat on my buttocs and back hitting the back of my head i couldnt get back up with out help and felt very bad pain shooting down both legs i had smashed the two way radio that was cliped on my belt on my right side back its been 3 years now do you Think i have a case against Mc donallds and westfeilds And how long do these cases usially go for i am still under pain maingement and the pain is unberable im on phisc drugs and pain meds and have to use cruches arround the house and out side the house
have i got a case for ( pub liyabillity) AND occupier liyabillity
thank you

Tanya October 9, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Hi!
I had surgery at a private hospital and during surgery they dropped me on the floor head first while I was unconscious. I don’t have major injuries. Is there anything we can do?

admin October 14, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Um – what are you hoping to achieve – a payout, an apology? They wont just write you a cheque – To make a successful claim you have to prove there are damages (cost or injury) and prove negligence – you should talk to a lawyer about your options but it could be a long process

Gloria February 26, 2013 at 3:59 am

I’m a registered nurse and in Sep 2010 I sustained a neck injury (displaced C6 – C7 disk with mass nerve compression) while working for a nursing agency in Alice Springs. I have been paid workers comp for a 16% whole body impairment which was only settled early this year. By law, a nurse “in-charge” must wear the drug cupboard keys around his/her neck at all times for security reasons however, the keys must be hanging in a “snap lock” strap so that it can snap off in case it is pulled by a patient or they become hooked someplace in order to prevent injury or chocking. The accident happened because the correct OH & S procedures had not been implemented as the keys I was given were on a normal strap and they did not snap off after catching on a door handle. I feel that the facility was in breach of their duty of care. I have proof of this and the inssurer has already accepted liability through the workers comp. My doctor says my injury is unlikely to get better without surgery and even then my chances are low. I continue to work as I need to make a living and plan for my retirement but every day I struggle a little more. Based on this information, do you think I have a case worth persuing with my solicitor ?

admin February 26, 2013 at 6:50 am

You should definitely at least talk to a lawyer. Whether you are successful or not is another matter. They would look at your degree of impairment, your ability to work, your contribution to the incident, future lost earning capacity, ongoing expenses, the amount of your workers comp settlement etc etc. Be prepared for a long, drawn out process

Gloria February 27, 2013 at 2:20 am

Thank you very much for your advice and encouragement. As a result of this, I have contacted my solicitor and they’ve appointed a meeting tomorrow. Thank you again and God Bless.

Rachel July 16, 2013 at 10:08 pm

My 4 yr old son sustained a small burn to wrist and finger on touching some steel that went around a window on a fish and chip shop in a food court.. I told them the steel was burning and they replied “it’s not my problem, there’s a sign stating hot surface” although my sons wounds have healed I am very disappointed in the way they treated us… How can they be allowed to treat people this way when a legitimate injury occurred.. And where is the prevention

Dave Collins July 16, 2013 at 10:22 pm

I agree – people like that wonder why claims are made against them – mostly as a punishment for their bad attitude!

Maree September 3, 2014 at 6:49 pm

My boyfriend and i went to a horse riding ranch on his birthday and he fell off his horse and died two days later from head injuries. it was noticed that the stirrup had broken from the saddle and was laying on the ground. I was obviously devastated and tried to end my own life. It was a long road ahead of me and changed my life forever. It has occurred to me on a couple of occasions through the years that they should be held accountable for the damage they did to our lives. Is there a time limit for claiming public liability.

Dave Collins September 4, 2014 at 6:40 am

Hi Maree – I am very sorry to hear that. I have no idea where you are or how long it has been so you would really need to speak with a lawyer about that but the longer it has been the more difficult it will be.

Maree September 4, 2014 at 10:04 am

Thankyou for your reply. It has most probably been too many years. he died on Valentine’s day in 1988. 2 days after his birthday. this happened in nsw Australia.

Dave Collins September 4, 2014 at 10:34 am

That is so sad Maree – unfortunately that is way too long ago. I am surprised there was no inquiry or action taken at the time?

Maree September 4, 2014 at 11:31 am

yes, unfortunately i was only 17.He was a couple of years older than I. after i was released from hospital due to the attempt on my life, i was sent to Qld to live with my father. I never heard anything from his family or the police or the ranch ever again. if i were older and wiser i may have taken some kind of action against them. Thanks for your time Dave. Much appreciated.

Dave Collins September 4, 2014 at 11:43 am

You are welcome. Geez, you hear of all the people suing for because they can’t take responsibility for their actions and clogging up the system with trivial claims – then you hear of stories like yours, deserving of action and compensation but nothing…… You will never forget but it sounds like you are dealing with it Ok – well done 🙂 If you are still in QLD, then you are in a great part of the world – I moved here from NSW 12 years ago and have never looked back 🙂

Maree September 4, 2014 at 7:31 pm

Yes, i am doing very well compared to a lot of people, and i do still live in QLD and would never move back.

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