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Published 3 December 2020
Recent research from MoneySuperMarket shows Insurers have seen a claims inflation fall of 2.7% in 2020 amid more people spending time at home during lockdown. However, there is currently no commentary from insurers regarding increased household injury claims during Covid and the recent periods of lockdown.
Given the above, it should follow that although claims in certain areas may fall, we could see an upward trend of specific claims due to an increased footfall of visitors to private properties owing to the population turning to on-line shopping and increased deliveries being made to homes. Expected visitors could include the postman, private deliveries and deliveries from food distribution services.
There is also likely to have been an increased number of contractors attending private properties to carry out building projects as people use the time in lockdown to make home improvements. There is a potential for increased dog bite claims, not only due to the increase in dog numbers due to the rising demand for pets during lockdown but because of the increased interaction of dogs with visitors which would not usually occur if homeowners are out at work. Overall, the scene has been set for claims increases, where typically it has remained static.
Homeowners should therefore be alive to the increased risks of a person suffering injury whilst visiting their property. The Occupiers Liability Act 1957 imposes a duty on the occupier of a property to take care as is reasonable in all the circumstances to ensure that visitors to the property are safe for the purposes that they are invited or permitted by the occupier to be there.
Homeowners in particular should be alive to the potential overall risks to visitors attending their property including typical hazards which could cause a visitor to slip or trip or defects arising from contractors on their properties such as broken manhole covers, damages to steps and pathways etc.
Homeowners should therefore monitor driveways and paths on their property and take reasonable steps to ensure that they are reasonably safe for visitors. Homeowners should also take into account any trip hazards and take steps to have these repaired. Using a warning sign to warn visitors of a hazard is unlikely to be sufficient to discharge the duties of an occupier and if a warning sign is being considered, then this should be used in conjunction with positive steps to try and prevent slips and trips.
Should a visitor to a private property suffer an injury, a Court will need to look at that claim on its own merits and assess whether or not in the circumstances of that case the homeowner acted reasonably to ensure the safety of visitors. Unlike in commercial establishments, it is unlikely (and in some cases, could appear suspicious) that written records of inspections, maintenance or repairs would be kept. In such cases it would be appropriate to obtain a detailed witness statement from the householder as soon as possible after the event and to proof that witness to understand whether or not their account is likely to persuade a Judge that any claim in negligence or alternatively a claim for breach of the Occupiers Liability Act should fail.
Insurers may also see more complex cases arising where injury occurred as a result of contractors working on private properties, with claims initiated against both the homeowner and the contractors employer. This is likely to occur where the cause of the accident is uncertain and could be attributed to either a hazard at the property and/or the contractual work being carried out. Homeowners need to be aware of these potential risks before work commences and work with contractors to minimise risks where possible.
In terms of the Animals Act 1971, it will be difficult for dog owners to defend claims where steps are not taken to reduce any interaction with visitors. However, a general awareness by owners that these types of claims are difficult to defend and prevention is usually the only form of protection against claims being brought could reduce the risk of visitors being injured. Any home owner who is concerned their dog may cause injury, even if unintended, must take steps to prevent contact between visitors and dogs.
DAC Beachcroft have expert lawyers who will be able to advise on the prospects of successfully defending claims of this nature. If you would like to discuss any individual cases, please do not hesitate to contact our Casualty Injury team, or one of the writers below.
+44 (0)117 918 2108
+44 (0)11 918 2719
+44 (0) 161 934 3109
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