As a business owner you not only have to contend with criminal law, e.g. offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act, you may also face a civil claim. Although widely advertised by the media that the UK is swamped with a claims culture, it is a surprisingly small percentage of accidents that lead to claims. That said a personal claim can be very costly to your business and therefore prevented if possible.
For a personal injury claim to be successful it must be proved that your business was negligent or in breach of statutory duty and that the negligence caused the injury. The term negligence means a careless act or conduct that causes damage to others. It is worth remembering that your staff operate the business and their actions may cause an accident but the business owner still has the ultimate liability.
Typically someone claiming against you will approach a solicitor to manage the claim on their behalf. They will send you a detailed letter identifying what legislation you are alleged to have broken and how their client has suffered.
Do not be alarmed when the letter portrays your company as the worst offender in the world as it is their job to make the case that you were at fault. A lot of solicitors rely on the fact that you don't want to face legal action and lengthy civil claims and will, in some cases, pay something straight away to save further work and expense.
Most letters will not identify any wrong doing on the part of the claimant so it is your job to make sure if they were partly responsible that you identify this. Remember this can be an omission to do something e.g. not taking part in training or not completing a task as required eg cleaning the floor and not put warning signs out as laid out in your operating procedures.
If you have the relevant insurance cover then upon receipt of a claims letter you will forward it to your insurance company who will advise you on the process to follow. If you have to respond to the letter yourself simply acknowledge the letter at the earliest opportunity and do not admit liability - even if it was your fault. You should then seek appropriate legal advice as a claim usually takes many months and numerous letters to get resolved.
A civil claim should usually be contested because otherwise you could end up paying over the odds and it may send a signal to staff that claiming is acceptable. That said you will need to make a judgement call to assess if a claim can be fought successfully or if it is easier to settle directly and avoid the cost and amount of time involved.
Nigel J Welford is a qualified Health & Safety professional and believes in making health and safety as simple as possible whilst still being effective and meeting all the regulations. For his free report "The Secret To How Health & Safety Can Improve Your Business And Profits: 7 Everyday Pitfalls To Avoid" from http://bit.ly/TI68sD
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