Head over Heels: Occupiers’ Liability

Valentine’s Day: the retail industry’s post-Christmas pick-me-up. The shops are packed, the restaurants fully booked, the petrol stations flowerless. Amorous couples fill the streets looking to bowl over their suitor with the grandest of romantic gestures. The ringing of tills is music to the ears of the retailers.

The increase in footfall can, however, become a curse as well as a blessing to any owners / managers of premises who take their eye off the safety and wellbeing of their customers during busy periods. Personal injury claims can be expensive in terms of both cost and reputation if an occupier cannot prove that they have taken all reasonable steps to protect its visitors.

What is the occupier’s responsibility?

Under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957, the occupier of a premises has a duty to take reasonable care of its visitors. Anyone who allows guests or customers on to its premises must make sure they are aware of any potential risks, hazards or problems. This is why you see signs such as “mind the step”, mind your head”, “wet floor” etc in bars and restaurants, supermarkets and post offices.

If the man buying a last-minute bunch of flowers for his lucky valentine slips on the floor of the petrol station and suffers personal injury, he may be entitled to claim against the garage if he proves that they failed to clear up the spillage or provided any warning before he arrived on the premises.

Similarly, if someone trips down a step in a dimly lit restaurant and injures themselves, if there was no warning of the step (usually a clear sign on the wall), the restaurant may be found to have failed to keep its guests safe.

Crazy in love

However, if a fiancé jumps on the dinner table after a successful proposal and falls off, the occupier cannot be expected to be held liable for failing to keep him safe! The law makes sure that if a visitor “willingly” accepts a risk whilst on the premises, the owners are not expected to compensate if something goes wrong.

Equally, if a young suitor drops a perfume bottle in a shop and the person behind him slips in the puddle, the shop assistant cannot reasonably have been expected to prevent the slip in the time it took for it to happen. Sometimes, accidents occur simply in unlucky circumstances and nobody is to blame.

Love is the law

We act for several clients who slipped or tripped in shops, car parks or other public places. The circumstances are always different. We always consider the prospects of their claim succeeding by applying the Occupiers’ Liability Act to see whether owners have done enough to keep our clients safe. We also check that our clients have not done something which put them in harm’s way, ignoring the occupier’s warnings.

So if you are rushing out into the crowds this week, be sure to try and avoid any possible hazards in a busy shop or crowded bar. Hopefully your romantic evening won’t end with either broken hearts or broken bones!

occupiers' liability