What Is Occupiers’ Liability?

Mariam Abu HusseinLegal Assessment Specialist @ Lawhive
Updated on 19th January 2024

If you are the owner of a property, or even rent a property that members of the public visit, you should be well versed on the law of occupiers’ liability. Simply put, occupier’s liability acts to make sure that any visitor to a premises is kept safe and free from harm. 

Need to know more? We’ve got you covered. In this article, we address what occupiers’ liability is, what should be done to ensure the safety of members of the public, and how you can go about an occupiers’ liability claim if you have been affected by the negligence of somebody else. 

What is occupiers' liability?

If you own or occupy a property that members of the public can access and visit, then you have a legal responsibility for the safety of anyone on the premises, under the law of occupiers' liability. 

As the occupier, you must make sure that the premises are reasonably safe for all visitors unless they are aware of any specific dangers there might be. In these cases, it becomes your responsibility to bring attention to these potential hazards. You must do this for any legal visitor, such as members of the public or individuals such as postal workers or delivery people.

When it comes to children visiting the premises, you must take additional precautions because they are often not as careful or aware of any dangers compared to adults.

Whilst you don’t legally have to make sure trespassers are safe, if there are existing dangers that you are aware of, you do need to alert these risks to any visitor, even if they don’t have permission to be on the property.  Failure to do so could lead to the injury of a person, which could lead to legal consequences. 

If someone suffered an injury because they had an accident on the premises, they might have the right to pursue an occupiers' liability claim for compensation.

The Occupiers Liability Act

There are two versions of the Occupiers Liability Act:

Occupiers Liability Act 1957 , which imposes an obligation on occupiers concerning 'lawful visitors', and Occupiers Liability Act 1984, which imposes liability on occupiers concerning persons other than 'his visitors'.

Both laws set out the legal responsibility and duty you have if you occupy premises that are visited by members of the public. The law sets out the rules around duty of care, and the necessary steps you must take to make sure that those who visit the property are safe and kept, or at least warned, from any dangers there might be. 

Different levels of protection are set out under the two pieces of legislation, with higher protections given to lawful visitors. 

The law makes clear that failure to follow these rules could result in legal consequences affecting the occupier and serves as a guide for anyone who suffers an injury on a premises in making an occupier's liability claims for compensation.

Who is the occupier?

Legally, an owner and an occupier are not necessarily the same person, although they can be. 

The owner of a property is the person or business with legal title and ownership rights. 

An occupier is someone who physically possesses or uses the property.

In many cases, the owner and occupier are the same person or business. For example, if you own a house and live in it, you are both the owner and the occupier. However, where the property is rented or leased, such as a commercial property, the occupier may not be the legal owner but has the right to use the premises.

This is particularly relevant in occupiers' liability, as both owners and occupiers may have responsibilities for the safety of visitors to the property. The extent of these responsibilities may depend on the specific legal relationship between the owner and occupier, as well as the nature of the visitation.

Do occupiers also have a duty of care towards children?

Yes, occupiers have a specific duty of care towards children. The Occupiers' Liability Act recognises that children may be less careful than adults and, therefore, require additional safeguards should be put in place. Occupiers should take reasonable steps to ensure that their premises are safe for children who may visit.

This duty of care towards children includes identifying potential hazards and taking measures to prevent harm. It recognises that children may not be fully aware of dangers or may be more prone to engaging in exploratory behaviours, making them more vulnerable to accidents.

For example, you may have a garden or play area on the property. To make sure this is safe and you are taking measures to prevent any harm, you could inspect the area regularly for any potential dangers, install safety features like soft ground cover, remove any obstacles or tripping hazards, and share safety guidelines with parents.

What is common duty of care?

The common duty of care is set out by the principles of negligence law. Negligence is an important and key concept within the tort law framework. Tort law deals with civil wrongs, and negligence, in particular, addressing situations where one person fails to take reasonable steps to avoid causing harm to others

For instance, if someone doesn't act as a reasonable person would to prevent harm and someone else gets hurt as a result, the person who didn't act responsibly might be held responsible for negligence.

Essentially, in the realm of occupier’s liability, it's about expecting people to act sensibly and preventing harm to others. 

What types of public places are included under occupiers liability?

Occupiers' liability covers many public places including: 

  • Any place where people shop, including shopping centres, department stores, and individual shops;

  • Areas designated for parking, whether attached to shopping centres, offices, or other public spaces;

  • Museums and art galleries;

  • Places where people seek medical treatment, including hospitals, clinics, and medical offices.

  • Public recreational areas, including parks, playgrounds, and green spaces;

  • Restaurants and cafes;

  • In certain cases, even private homes may fall under occupiers' liability, particularly if there's an event or situation where the public is invited.

Whether it's a public place, a commercial establishment, or even a private property under specific circumstances, the duty of care applies to make these places reasonably safe for the public.

Public liability vs occupiers' liability

Public liability and occupiers' liability are different aspects of responsibility for accidents or injuries that occur in public places. Let’s have a look at the key differences. 

Public Liability

Public liability deals with injuries in public places or on someone else's property. Property owners, businesses, or individuals responsible for public areas.

For example, if you slip and fall in a shopping centre, the owner might be responsible.

Occupiers' Liability

Occupiers' liability is a specific type of public liability focusing on those who control premises. Individuals or businesses in charge of a place, like a shopping centre manager or a homeowner can fall under this.

For example, If you're hurt in a hospital due to their negligence, you might have a claim under occupiers' liability.

To simplify, public liability covers injuries in public places, while occupiers' liability hones in on the duty of those controlling specific spaces to keep them safe. Both involve responsibilities for public safety but focus on different aspects of the legal framework.

Examples of occupiers’ liability

Still confused about the differences between public liability and occupiers’ liability? Let’s have a look at some real-world cases of occupier’s liability:

Ward v Tesco Stores (2005)

In this case, a customer slipped on a grape in a Tesco supermarket. The court held that Tesco, as the occupier of the premises, had a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of customers.

Tesco was found liable for the customer's injuries, as they failed to maintain a safe environment by not addressing the hazard quickly enough.

Keown v Coventry Healthcare NHS Trust (2006)

A visitor to a hospital slipped on water near a reception area. The court considered whether the hospital, as the occupier, took sufficient measures to prevent accidents like this.

The court found the hospital negligent, as they hadn't adequately dealt with the spill, and the injured party was awarded compensation.

These two cases highlight the importance of occupiers' liability in holding people who are in control of premises accountable for making sure it’s safe for visitors. They show that occupiers can and will be held liable if they fail to fulfill their duty of care, leading to injuries on their premises.

Does an accident at work fall under occupiers liability?

Legally, when an accident happens at work, it falls under a different category called employers' liability, not occupiers' liability.

Under employers' liability law, your employer must make sure your workplace is safe. This includes having safe work processes, well-maintained tools, and competent co-workers. Even if you're working away from your usual workplace, your employer still has a responsibility to ensure that the location is reasonably safe. If they neglect this duty and you get injured, your employer might be held responsible.

As well as this, if another person controls the workplace where you're assigned to work, they also have a duty of care. According to the Workplace Regulations 1992, they must maintain the workplace and equipment, ensuring they are in good working order. If they fail in this responsibility and you get injured, that person in control of the premises can be held liable for breaking the regulations. In such cases, you could claim against them, arguing that their negligence led to the breach of regulations and caused your injury.

If you're injured while working in a place controlled by your employer, you might be eligible to make a claim under employers' liability instead of occupiers' liability.

How to make an occupiers' liability claim

If you think you need to make an occupiers' liability claim, you must make sure your case is properly presented. 

Collect all information you have about the incident, including details about the location, circumstances leading to your accident, and any hazards that contributed to the injury.

If you or someone else is able, take photographs of the scene, capturing any unsafe conditions. If there are witnesses, try to get their contact information and ask if they will provide you with a witness statement to support your evidence. 

Never forget to report the incident to the occupier or owner of the premises as soon as possible. This should be done in writing and you need to keep a copy for your records.

Keep records of any expenses related to your injury, such as medical bills, travel costs, and other out-of-pocket expenses.

It is always worth seeking legal advice from a solicitor experienced in personal injury law. They will assess your case, give you guidance on how to proceed, and if you do start the claims process, take charge of negotiations and settlements. 

If an agreement cannot be reached, your solicitor may start court proceedings. However, many cases are settled before reaching this stage.

Common defences against occupiers liability

Occupiers may use various defences against occupiers' liability claims. For example, the occupier may argue that the visitor gave consent to the risks associated with the premises, especially if the hazard was obvious.

The occupier might also claim that the visitor's actions or lack of care contributed to the accident. This can reduce the occupier's liability. Or, if the occupiers displayed adequate warning signs about potential dangers, they may argue that they fulfilled their duty to warn visitors.

The occupier could additionally claim that the hazardous condition was a result of complying with a legal obligation or authority, making them not fully liable. In some cases, the accident could be caused by the actions of an independent contractor hired by the occupier, who may argue that they are not directly responsible. Or, the occupier could not have reasonably foreseen the hazard, so they may argue that they are not responsible for the accident.

In cases of emergency, the occupier might argue that they had limited time to address the situation and should not be held fully accountable.

Of course, the success of these defences depends on the circumstances of each case.

Occupiers must demonstrate that they took reasonable steps to ensure the safety of visitors and that any risks were properly communicated. Visitors, on the other hand, need to show that the occupier breached their duty of care. Consulting with a solicitor experienced in occupiers' liability can help shed light on these defences. 

How can Lawhive help?

If you have been injured in an accident on a property or land owned by somebody else, we can help you make an occupier's liability claim for compensation on a no-win, no-fee basis.

Contact our legal assessment team and personal injury solicitors today for a free case assessment.

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