Public Liability

Misconceptions about public liability claims

Peta Miller
Mar 9, 2021
min read
Child riding scooter on footpath

Have you ever tripped and hurt yourself on a footpath? Slipped on a wet floor at a supermarket where there was no warning sign? Been assaulted at a nightclub? Bitten by a dog?

If you’re injured in a public place, everyday things can suddenly become extremely difficult, like working, sleeping, or walking. If this happens, you may be covered for compensation under a public liability legislation.

We break down the common misconceptions people may have about public liability claims.

Myth: public liability claims are only for injuries in public places

Fact: you may be able to make a public liability claim for injuries sustained in a wide range of places or establishments.

A “public place” covers most places managed by an individual or organisations with a responsibility to provide a safe place. Like footpaths, rental properties, schools, shopping centres, theme parks, hotels, entertainment venues and community areas like playgrounds.

Generally speaking, a public liability claim is for when a duty of care is owed to the public by a business, individual, organisation or venue. The law says that they are responsible for any injuries that a person sustains on their property or as a result of their business activities.

Common situations that bring about public liability claims can include:

  • Slips, trips, and falls
  • Physical or sexual assaults
  • Food poisoning
  • Aviation or boating injuries
  • Recreational and sporting injuries like diving accidents

But it doesn’t have to have happened just in a public place. Public liability claims also cover other incidents like dog bites, assaults, injuries inside your rental or someone else’s home.

Myth: if I fall over, it’s my own fault.

Fact: Not all accidents can be prevented, however, venues and organisations (just like the rest of us) have a duty of care to avoid any harm to others which could be reasonably foreseeable.

For example, a telecoms crew leaving a pavement manhole open with no cover; a landlord refusing to fix a faulty set of stairs; or a business with exposed wiring could be seen as a forseeable risk.

To be able to make a public liability claim you have to prove:

  • Those at fault owed you a duty of care
  • They breached that duty of care
  • That those who breached the duty of care should have known it would cause an injury
  • You were hurt and suffered a loss as a result

There are circumstances, however, where these points may have been met but you still might not be eligible, like if you were drunk or on drugs at the time.

Myth: public liability insurance is compulsory

Fact: it’s not a requirement, although some places or industries are stricter than others.

In Queensland, most industries require businesses to have public liability insurance, including hospitals, cafes and restaurants. However, it isn’t compulsory like workers’ compensation insurance is. And the rules are slightly different for some types of work.

For example, contractors aren’t usually covered by a business’s insurer, but some contractors, like electrical contractors, can’t practice in Queensland unless they hold the licence issued by the State Government with public liability insurance covering them for at least $5 million in damages.

A survey by the Insurance Council of Australia revealed more than a quarter of businesses in Australia don’t have general insurance and sole traders were the most likely to be uninsured, with 40 per cent of them operating with no coverage.

The general insurance industry, which includes public liability products, experienced an 11.4 per cent increase in gross claims expense over the 12 months to September 2020, with just over $43 billion paid out.

Myth: if I make a public liability claim, someone will have to pay

Fact: it’s an insurance claim, so a successful claim is paid for by the insurer, not the individual or organisation who caused the injury.

If you’re injured in one of these circumstances, and you choose to take action, you might not know that you aren’t actually suing those at fault, rather their public liability insurer. The point of insurance is to protect the business for exactly these types of circumstances.

A public liability claim may provide you with financial compensation for any losses suffered as a result of the injury. This may include lost wages, lost superannuation, medical bills, rehabilitation and ongoing pain and suffering.

However, there is a maximum amount that may be claimed. And there are time limits that apply, so seeking legal advice early is recommended.

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