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Trips and falls are an everyday occurrence. You may have had this kind of accident yourself, having slipped on an uneven surface, or tripped over a jagged piece of concrete on the pavement.

Injuries sustained in public places are increasingly common. It is very important to understand what kind of environment will be deemed a public space. This will have implications for who you will be able to hold responsible for your injury. A public space is an area of land that is intended for use by members of the public. You will find these in every city: roads; pavements; parks; and town and city squares.

Who is responsible for maintaining a public space?

If you have been injured as a result of suffering a trip or fall in a public space, e.g. on a road or pavement etc., responsibility for this will lie with the Local Authority or the organisation responsible for maintaining the public space.

These bodies are obliged to ensure that the public environment they have control over is properly maintained. This will include an obligation to ensure that facilities made available to their community, e.g. parks, roads and other public spaces, are kept free of any danger to people that will use them.

What needs to be proved in a public liability claim?

In order for a public liability claim to succeed, it must be proved that the accident was avoidable. In other words, the claimant must be able to demonstrate that the Local Authority or other relevant organisation did something, or failed to do something, that caused them to be injured. In law, this is known as negligence.

In order to prove that the Local Authority or organisation has acted negligently, the claimant will need to be able to demonstrate to a court that certain criteria have been satisfied. The main points that will need be evidenced are:

  • They were owed a duty of care - It must be established that the Local Authority or organisation owed an obligation to the member of the public, not to do anything (or fail to do anything) that could cause you to be injured. It tends to be fairly straightforward to evidence to a court that the Local Authority or organisation owed a duty of care in respect of your use of public places.
  • The Local Authority or organisation must have chosen to act in the way that it did

Operators and maintainers of public spaces tend to have significant demands on their resources, and this criterion is designed to show that they were not forced to take the action that they took/failed to take.

The situation was likely to result in an accident occurring - In order to satisfy this criterion, it must be demonstrated to a court that it was reasonable to expect that an accident would occur.

  • The Local Authority or other relevant body failed to do what would have been done by others

This last, and arguably most significant part of proving negligence, is often the most difficult to prove. Ther must be evidence that whatever the Local Authority’s actions, they fell below the standard of conduct expected in the circumstances. This must then be shown to have caused injury.

How is negligence proved?

Proving that a Local Authority or organisation acted negligently in allowing a public place to become a danger to members of the public, is difficult.

In the first instance, any injury should be reported to the Injuries Board, where an independent assessment of the claim will be carried out. It is only where the Local Authority or relevant organisation disputes liability for their responsibility for an injury that the matter will need to be referred to the courts for consideration.

Court room litigation in respect of personal injuries can be complex. However, there are important pieces of evidence that can be used to build a strong case in support of any claim. These include:

  • Photographs of the area– it is important that the court can visualise the area where the injury was sustained. Photographs can be very powerful in demonstrating the state of a public place, and the degree to which the Local Authority or organisation may have neglected its responsibilities;
  • Supporting statements– the Local Authority will not easily concede negligence if they have proof to the contrary. It will be significant if the claimant is able to provide the court with independent accounts from other people that saw the accident, and can point to the fact that it was the state of the area in question that caused injury; and
  • Records of the injury you sustained – it can be very helpful in mounting a claim following a slip or fall if there is recorded evidence of the injury suffered. Where the claimant had to undergo any medical treatment, or perhaps had to take time away from work as a result of theinjury, this should be made known to the court.

Sherwin O’Riordan Public Liability Lawyers for Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Leinster & Across Ireland

Whether you are based in Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Leinster or elsewhere in Ireland, our team solicitors are very familiar with the processes involved in proving negligence in the court system. You can call +353 1 663 2000 to speak with one of our experienced solicitors.

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