What happens when a customer at one of your outlets slips or sustains an injury and then launches a claim for compensation? Sometimes the cause of a fall or accident may not be clear cut – and if it occurred through no fault of yours, you clearly do not want to be faced with large settlements and court costs.

Many claims fall within the remit of the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 which requires occupiers of premises to take reasonable care to ensure that visitors are reasonably safe in using the premises. Claims frequently, but not exclusively, consist of tripping and slipping as illustrated by the examples below.

Fall on ‘wet floor’

A claim was brought by a visitor to a nightclub arising from a slip on an allegedly wet floor. There was no clear evidence as to what caused the fall – whether it was indeed as a result of a wet floor, or a combination of 4 inch high heels and the effects of alcohol. 

 Unfortunately, the claimant’s accident was not recorded in the accident book and, even though CCTV footage showed that the claimant was assisted by a member of senior staff, no one had any recollection of the incident. Unsurprisingly, the claimant’s friends provided statements confirming that the floor was wet.  However there was nothing on the CCTV footage to suggest that any of her friends saw or inspected the area where she fell.  Whilst the nightclub had a detailed written procedure dealing with spillages, witness evidence obtained from staff and the CCTV footage showed that the procedure was not always followed in practice, which did not help in this situation.

 As a result of her fall the claimant suffered a severe fracture to her arm and the claim was pleaded in the region of £17,000. With legal costs the total cost of the claim would reach in excess of £50,000. 

 Following consideration of the evidence and negotiations with the claimant’s solicitors, a total settlement of £13,000 was agreed, showing that, despite hard and fast evidence of the cause of the accident being unavailable, compromises can be met to the satisfaction of the insurer.

Injury from glass

This incident took place in a bar. The claimant alleged that he was standing at the bar when he received a cut to the back of his arm as a result of a piece of flying glass. He suggested a member of staff had thrown a glass bottle into a bin behind the bar, and this had shattered. 

Investigations showed that at almost the same time another customer received a small cut to the face as a result of a glass being thrown at the ceiling by another customer, which then shattered. Detailed evidence from both staff and customers support the fact the bottles were not thrown into the bins and that the most likely explanation is that both people were injured as a result of the glass being thrown at the ceiling. As a result the claimant withdrew his claim against the bar; a happy outcome for our client and showing the benefits of carrying out a detailed investigation.

Lessons learnt

So, what can we learn from these type of cases? Unfortunately it often feels as if no one is willing to accept that accidents can happen without negligence on the part of the hospitality trade.  Often one of the main weaknesses to a defence is the lack of documentary evidence to support company procedures – although it may be the case that policies and procedures not being implemented in practice.

Useful tips

Prevention

  • Ensure you have thorough risk assessments in place (for both staff and visitors).
  • Review the risk assessments regularly. Annual reviews are usually sufficient but they should also we reviewed after any accidents.
  • Ensure staff read risk assessments. Ideally, they should sign to say they have.
  • If the business has recently changed ownership do not rely on risk assessments carried out by predecessors.
  • Set out clear procedures for staff to follow (for example, procedures for dealing with spillages). Provide clear and detailed instructions. Ensure staff understand and follow the procedures and get them to sign off to say they have been trained on the procedures. Do not assume you can rely on the common sense of your staff – they may be fantastic employees but the court is likely to expect more.
  • Ensure that regular checks are done to look for obvious hazards such as things that could cause a person to trip or slip.
  • Use ‘sign off sheets’ for staff to record the time checks were made, any issues indentified and what remedial action was taken.
  • Keep a maintenance/repair record for equipment and items of furniture (e.g. chairs in a bar/restaurant).
  • Complete accident book entries for all accidents (even those that initially appear to be minor).

 Should the worse happen

  • Train staff to complete the accident book correctly and to think carefully about what they record in it. If a claim is made then the accident book entry is likely to be a key piece of evidence. For example: don’t just record “slip on wet floor” based solely on the customer’s say so. An entry stating “customers reports slipped on wet floor near till 1. Floor inspected and no liquid seen” would be far more preferable.
  • Ideally, follow up with a more thorough investigation report providing further details such as when the area was last inspected prior to the incident, the known cause of the incident and/or the accounts of any witnesses etc. Photographs are often very useful.
  • Ensure staff do not make any admissions or comments to the injured party regarding the cause of the accident.

Report to insurers

If you do find yourself in the unfortunate position of facing a claim the first thing to do is to make your insurers aware so that they can carry out investigations in a timely manner. Failure to adhere to your insurers’ reporting requirements may lead to them refusing to indemnify you in respect of the claim.

Need assistance?

Our defendant personal injury team has considerable experience in defending claims made against the hospitality trade for accidents occurring on their premises. Please contact Paul Chadder on 01865 781006 or paul.chadder@freeths.co.uk