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All householders have a statutory duty to ensure that their property is reasonably safe for those invited or permitted to be there.

Accidents can happen and, unfortunately in the prevailing claims culture, victims may try to allocate blame rather than accept that the incident was simply an accident. As an insurer, Ecclesiastical accepts those liability claims that have a genuine basis – and rigorously defends those that don’t.

A slip on a step

The incident occurred at a Grade II listed residential property where an Ecclesiastical customer had lived for 26 years. The house has shallow steps and a pathway leading to the front door which have remained unchanged since the house was built in 1846.

The owner, an elderly lady, says that she takes care when using the steps but has never had any problems and has never seen any reason to make any changes. According to the owner, similar care on the steps had always been taken by family members, friends and anyone else visiting the property, with no incidents or accidents ever reported to have taken place.

However, in 2012, a carer visiting the property slipped on the path as she was leaving the house and fell down the steps. The property owner didn’t see the actual incident but shortly after saw the visitor walking to her car. The visitor later returned to the house to advise the owner that she had fallen and hurt her head and upper back as a result of a fall.

A claim arrives

The property owner took no further action and didn’t report the accident to Ecclesiastical at the time because she considered that it was just that – a simple accident with no blame attaching to her as the householder. However, around three weeks later she received a letter claiming damages for personal injury to the carer who had visited her property.

Where does the blame lie?

As an ordinary householder, the property owner had, quite understandably, not carried out any formal documented risk assessment of the property. She had never had any problems and therefore had not seen any reason to make any changes.

In fact, there is no record of any similar accidents in the long history of the property.

A risk assessment had also been carried out by the company of the service provider prior to the visit to the customer’s home. The owner was not given a copy of this risk assessment, but nothing was said about the steps and pathway, so it is fair to assume that the service provider’s risk assessor didn’t believe there to be any risk involved in their use.

Our response

After careful consideration of the circumstances of the claimant’s fall, liability was denied by Ecclesiastical.

In denying the claim, we pointed out that the carer was not employed by our client, but by a third party who had carried out risk assessments prior to the visit to the customer’s home, and that, in fact there was no reason to believe that the steps or pathway posed any danger.

No further attempt at action was taken against the owners of the property.

Carol O’Donnell, Specialist Claims Consultant says:

"It is always important to carry out prompt investigations to establish whether our customer has been negligent. If our investigations conclude it is a claim to defend then it is important we deny liability quickly and robustly."

Ecclesiastical Insurance Group plc (EIG) Reg No 1718196. Ecclesiastical Insurance Office plc (EIO) Reg No 24869. Ecclesiastical Life Ltd (ELL) Reg No 243111. Ecclesiastical Financial Advisory Services Ltd (EFAS) Reg No 2046087. Ecclesiastical Underwriting Management Ltd (EUML) Reg No 2368571. E.I.O. Trustees Ltd Reg No 941199. EdenTree Investment Management Ltd (EIM) Reg No 2519319. All companies are registered in England at Beaufort House, Brunswick Road, Gloucester GL1 1JZ. EIO and ELL are authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Firm Reference Number 113848 (EIO) and 110318 (ELL). EFAS and EIM are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Firm Reference Number 126123 (EFAS) and 527473 (EIM). EUML is an appointed representative of EIO who is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Firm Reference Number 402228.