Public Liability Claims & Compensation – South Africa

Public Liability Claims & Compensation – South Africa
Public Liability Claims & Compensation – South Africa

Depending on the groups of individuals that interact with a business, different types of liability insurance may be required.

Any business has the potential to harm people and/or property. In today’s litigious society, it is important for businesses to be covered by public liability insurance. Since the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act (2011), consumers seeking compensation for damages caused by goods, are no longer required to prove that producer of the goods was negligent, only that the goods were purchased and that harm resulted from using them (in the manner prescribed by the user manual).

All businesses are bound by a ‘duty of care’ for the parties that they interact with, e.g. their clients, suppliers, distributors, neighbours and the environment. Businesses at particular risk are those involved in performing a service in another party’s premises (movers), servicing people’s assets (car service) and manufacturing products (furniture) that can inflict damage.

Types of public liability

You can claim for a variety of damages due to a multitude of causes if the company or property owner can be shown to be negligent.

General and tenant insurance covers cases in which damage to a member of the public or a tenant has been incurred.
e.g. If an air conditioner mounted outside of the building falls and crashes onto a car, or if the tenant or member of a gym, slips on the way to the pool.

Employers liability discharges the responsibility of the employer from the injury or damage done to an employee or their assets as a result of negligence on the part of the business. e.g  If a pipe bursts in the office and spills dirty water all over the desks of your employees, liability insurance will cover the employer for injuries suffered and damages to the employees’ phones, clothes, computers etc.

Another example is employers failing to supply safety goggles in smelting factories, causing the workers to lose their vision.

Product liability protects businesses from damages caused by goods to customers, and also from products arriving in a damaged state, and wrong delivery.

Defective workmanship liability protects businesses from damage or injury to the public resulting from manufacturing defects.

Contractors liability provides protection against damages and injuries to third parties resulting from construction and maintenance work.

Professional indemnity protects professionals from loss/injury/damage to third parties due to erroneous advice or treatment.

There are two types of claim

1. Small and frequent claims that usually involve smaller compensatory amounts.
    These are often due to simple negligence on behalf of the accused
    e.g. Unkempt walkways, potholes, objects falling off of construction sites.
2. Large but rare claims involving exceptional sums and severe injuries.
    Generally occur due to failure on the part of the business to protect the person from injury.
e.g. Gas explosion due to faulty piping, contamination of drinking water

Damages claimable for product liability

  • Past and future medical expenses resulting as a direct consequence of negligence regarding the product or product defects
  • Past and future loss of earning
  • General damages, pain and suffering
  • Support loss, in the case of the death of the breadwinner

Do you need to claim for public liability?

If you have been involved in an accident at work or accident at the fault of a business or government, where you were not at fault, you may want to claim back for damages from the insured party.

In order to do this, you must attempt to prove the extent of loss you suffered, as a result of the incident. If the company or property owner does not own an insurance policy guarding against public liability claims, you may need to launch a civil suit, or 'sue' them. In that case, you will take the liable party before a court of law and if your claim is successful, the Judge will order compensatory monies to be paid. In some cases this may result in the business going bankrupt or the liable persons facing financial difficulties due to the required compensation. In some cases defendants will need to sell their assets in order to meet the monetary value ruled adequate.

Some people may have no assets of value or accessible funds, in which case your claim, although relevant and substantiated, may be futile.

In order to claim from the responsible party:

  • You, as the claimant, must first prove that the damages suffered by you is a direct result of the incident and further, directly due to the negligence or action of the accused party.
  • You must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the negligence or failure of action on the part of the accused party, such as selling second hand tyres as new or failing to repair a faulty elevator, could have been prevented or foreseen
  • You must prove that the repairs and compensation will return the damaged goods to the state they would have been in, if the accident had not occurred. Similarly if you are claiming for loss of income due to the incident, the Judge will consider compensation as if the accident had not occurred.
  • You may need to repair your car, and then claim back from the insured afterwards. Alternatively you may choose to wait on the repairs until you know that your claim has merit and that the insurance company will pay out. The former involves more risk to your personal finances, but an immediate solution, the latter may complicate your everyday life, but is less risky in terms of your personal costs.

Preparing to see your lawyer

Before seeing your lawyer, it may help things run smoothly if you are prepared. Try to have as many of the following relevant documents at your appointment:

  • Identity document
  • Documentation of the accident and damage caused
  • Registration number of the car that caused the accident
  • Police case number
  • Personal details of the driver or the owner of the car
  • Personal details of any witnesses to the accident
  • A hospital patient number (if you have one)

If claiming for loss of support, a death certificate and copy of your loved one's latest payslip will required.

How much will it cost you?

Each case is different, and has to be evaluated based on its own merits. In the case that your claim is unsuccessful, most law firms will not charge for their services. If your claim is successful the lawyer will recover the value of their fee and expenses by requiring you pay them a percentage of the compensation.

As a result, many lawyers will not take your case unless they are certain that they will be successful.

Ensure you consult with honourable and honest professionals.


Public Liability Claims Lawyers