What is the definition of public liability

Public liability is defined as the duty of care owed to those who use a public place.

If you have had an accident in a place used by the public, which has caused injury to yourself or your property then you may be entitled to make a claim against the person, organisation or business that owed you that duty of care.

Starting a claim

It is important to know that there are time limits when making a claim for compensation. For public liability claims you must start your claim within three years of the accident. There is one exception to the three-year rule – if the injured person is a minor (under the age of 18 years) then the claim can be made by a parent / guardian anytime until the child reaches 18, or the child can make the claim themselves anytime up to three years after reaching their 18th birthday.

The claim may be against a person, a business, a local authority or another organisation responsible for the place where the accident occurred. It is really helpful to have as much information as possible about the accident.

Most public liability claims generally involve slips, trips and falls in a public place.

It is important that the accident is reported to the responsible party at the earliest opportunity. If you are asked to sign an Accident Report Form, please ensure that the accident circumstances have been recorded correctly before adding your signature. This is an important document and will form part of the evidence in your case.

Further important evidence in public liability claims includes

  • date, time and address of the accident
  • witness details and description of the accident
  • photographs of the scene of the accident and your injuries
  • how much the accident has cost you financially, ideally with receipts
  • any reference numbers given when the accident was reported

Recovering Compensation – Proving Fault

The claim is basically your way of recovering compensation for what has happened to you. ie your injuries and associated financial losses. Assuming of course, that you were entitled to be on the premises, for a claim to be successful, there are three elements that need to be proved:

  • that the owner of the premises where the accident occurred owed you a duty of care;
  • that the duty was breached; and
  • the breach caused the injury sustained by you as a result.

In most cases the business or organisation will have an insurance policy that will pay out, but it is worth bringing a claim even if you suspect there is no insurance as they will still be liable to meet the costs of your claim. A lawyer may be able to advise how best to handle these cases. You can seek compensation for the injury itself, medical and travel costs associated with it the injury and damage to personal property. You can also seek to recover lost income.

For business owners

Whilst it is not a legal requirement to have public liability insurance, most small businesses opt for this insurance policy as it covers you for claims made by members of the public.

It is important to be able to cover the potential costs of any claim that could be brought against your business for an accident that occurs on your property or while using your equipment. Obvious examples of potential hazards include icy or slippery paths, protruding tree roots, obstacles on pathways, broken steps or handrails, uncontrolled animals etc. Claims may be made by customers, clients, passers-by, or other members of the public.

Any place that is used by members of the public must be fit for purpose, and that means, it must be properly maintained. You have a duty of care towards anyone who is allowed to be there, and reasonable steps should be taken to safeguard them. Your liability will be reduced if it can be shown that in some way, even if only partially, the Claimant contributed to the accident themselves, for example, perhaps they had drunk alcohol before tripping on the steps.


There is quite a range of compensation payouts, and the actual amount recovered will be determined by the extent of the injury. The Claimant will attend a medical examination, medical experts will review the Claimant’s medical notes and records, look at the extent of the injuries suffered and prepare a medical report in which they will set out the nature and extent of the injuries the Claimant has suffered because of the accident. Personal Injury Claims can take some time to settle, and it may help to have an experienced lawyer negotiate a settlement on your behalf.

Top tips

  • Never admit fault, it may affect the compensation you are entitled to recover.
  • Do not try to negotiate a settlement yourself as it may reduce the level of compensation awarded.
  • Keep full records of the accident whether as a victim or premises owner, including the names and contact details of others present.
  • Do not wait too long to either start your claim or inform your insurance company of a claim being made against you.

If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on 0330 – 332 – 4844 or email [email protected].