Owners or occupiers of a business property need to be very careful in allowing members of the public onto their premises. If a business chooses to open its own premises, either through buying a piece of land and building a store on it or taking up residence in a readily available space, and allow members of the public entry e.g. a hotel or retail outlet, they must ensure that they take the necessary steps to protect their customers/ visitors. Failure to do so may well result in a visitor suffering personal injury, and require that compensation is issued.
Historically in Scotland, the law outlining the care that had to be taken by owners/ occupiers of land for people visiting their premises was somewhat vague. However the law in this area has been reformed and it is now very clear that in the UK, the occupier of a piece of land is under a reasonable duty of care to provide for the safety of all visitors to their premises.
Who Owes This Duty Of Care?
It is not unusual to find that the occupier of a piece of land is not the owner – it may be premises that has been let out/ rented by another party. In ordinary circumstances, the fact that a piece of land is rented out would normally mean that the landlord is responsible for the premises. However, the contract that would be signed by a landlord and tenant to let a premises will normally provide that the tenant is responsible for maintaining the building. As a result, this means that it will be the tenant and not the landlord that is responsible for any accidents that occur on the premises.
As mentioned above, UK law lays down a positive duty on the occupier/ owner of land to take steps to ensure that anyone entering the premises will not suffer an injury because of something that is wrong with the premises. Despite this, in any action claiming personal injury the injured party, known in law as the ‘Pursuer’, will still need to identify that reasonable care had not been taken.
Factors A Court Will Consider In Personal Injury Cases
Under the legislation, owners/ occupiers of premises are only required to take reasonable steps to remove a risk – they are not required to eliminate it. If a party wants to bring a personal injury claim before a court, in deciding the claim the court will consider a number of factors before it makes its decision including;
- What kind of danger caused the injury?
- Did the owner/ occupier know of the danger?
- What harm was suffered?
- What was the likelihood of the harm suffered being inflicted on the pursuer?
- What age was the person that was injured?
- What would have been the cost to remove the danger?
It is also important to note that the law guards against not only things that are done on an owners/ occupiers premises exposing visitors to their premises to danger, but also things that have not been done but still present a risk to visitors’ safety. There are a number of things that can happen on a premises that can be a risk to a visitor including;
- Uneven surfaces
- Exposed electrical works
- Slippery floors
- Unsafe furnishings
It is a good practice of owners/ occupiers of a premises to take precautions to guard against slip, trip and falls and other risks to visitor safety e.g. warning signs, cordoned-off areas etc. However the use of such guards may not completely remove the liability of owners/ occupiers in the event of visitors suffering an injury, but may reduce their liability.
There use is something that the courts will take into consideration, as well as visitors cognisance of them, in deciding on whether or not the reasonable duty of care has been discharged or not.
What You Should Do If You Have An Accident On A Business Property
If an individual suffers injury on a business premises, they should take note of everything that happened to them;
- names of personnel they dealt with after the accident;
- any indication that the store had taken precautions to protect visitors from harm;
- the nature of their injury; and
- medical attention if necessary.
It would also be helpful if some evidence of the risk to visitor safety on a premises could be obtained e.g. photographs. Individuals seeking to bring a claim are also best advised to avoid exaggeration or embellishment as this will only delay the process of establishing whether or not any compensation is due.
This information should be provided to a specialist solicitor that deals with personal injury claims, who will then be able to advise on the merit of the claim.