At a glance
- Public liability claims likely to increase due to increased footfall and wintry weather
- Regular inspection and cleaning regimes can go a long way to preventing accidents
- Having documented procedures in place can help defend any claims that arise
The Christmas period is traditionally the busiest time of year for shopping centres – with December 28 expected to be the most hectic day of 2013, as shoppers this year are estimated to spend at least £2 billion more than in 2012 over the festive period – but more shoppers can also mean more accidents.
Add in the traditional inclement wintry weather for this time of year, which can mean many thousands of shoppers traipsing water into shopping centres, and it is obvious why these complexes must be extra vigilant over the period to prevent a surge in ‘slip and trip’ claims.
Regular inspection and cleaning regimes, making sure grit is put down in outside areas and car parks – for which the centres are responsible – during icy periods and grit supplies are adequate, and putting up warning signs inside for wet floors can all go a long way to preventing accidents.
Importance of keeping records
Many shopping centres also use contractors to carry out cleaning duties and it is also vitally important to keep documented timesheets of areas that have been inspected or cleaned. Having a documented procedure in place and adhered to will help a shopping centre when it comes to defending any claims made.
“A shopping centre doesn’t need to impose a cleaning or inspection regime touching on perfection,” said Craig Halliday, Claims Inspector at Zurich.
“The court’s view that inspections should be carried out with reasonable frequency was first addressed in the 1970s following the case of Ward v Tesco Stores.
“The Occupiers’ Liability Act only requires that reasonable care is taken to avoid visitors sustaining damage or injury therefore you don’t need to inspect the floor every two minutes.
“The frequency of inspections just has to be whatever you have determined is reasonable with reference to the risk assessments and safe systems of work devised for the shopping centres. If you are able to provide the documentary proof of the cleaning and inspections carried out, it provides the evidence that all reasonable care has been taken.”
Craig added: “It may seem self-evident, but it is sometimes ignoring the simple things that can lead to problems.
“For instance, replacing or cleaning the matting in door wells is important at this time of year as they become fairly useless if they are soaked and this means shoppers will just bring even more water into shopping centres.
“Similarly, checking the weather reports to ensure grit is distributed prior to icy weather or snowfall and ensuring there are adequate supplies of grit will all help to reduce the potential risks.”
Presenting a robust defence
A shopping centre doesn’t need to impose a cleaning or inspection regime touching on perfection. You don’t need to inspect the floor every two minutes. It just has to be whatever you determine is reasonable
Craig Halliday, Claims Inspector at Zurich
A sound risk management regime can also limit the amount of successful attritional slip and trip claims.
“If a shopping centre is adhering to its processes, then, should a claim arise, we can present a robust defence to the vast majority of cases and that in itself is going to have a positive impact on the claims experience in relation to cases successfully defended,” said Craig.
Employer and public liability cases up to £25,000 are now being dealt with through an electronic portal following the recent Ministry of Justice reforms to civil litigation, but the insurance industry is still digesting the financial impact of the changes – which are aimed at reducing personal injury claims costs by delivering compensation at proportionate cost – that came into operation on July 31 for liability claims.
“There are now reduced timescales on decision making, which makes it especially important to be able to collate evidence and documentation quickly as there are cost implications,” said Craig. “But we are still in a slight period of flux at the moment given the recent changes and we need to see whether the reforms impact on the volume of claims received as we move forward.”