By: Peter Okoyomoh
When could a visit from business associates, customers or friends cost you legally?
Having friends, family or business associates visit our homes and business premises could be fun and exciting, however, things may not always go smoothly.
Accidents may occur. Our guest may get bitten by a dog carelessly let out of its cage, or they may trip over uneven flights of stairs or a structural defect we fail to warn them about. Worse still, our children may leave sharp objects in dangerous places and these may harm our guest. Long story short, our guests may suffer some injury caused by our inadvertence or negligence.
Most times, we rely on our familiarity with these persons to simply offer drugs, some aspirin, mentholated spirit, we may or even to take them to the hospital at our own cost in more serious cases. Good enough, but what happens when they rebuff our overtures? What if they threaten legal action for the injury they have suffered?
When the above happens, a lot of questions arise. Do we owe them any legal duty? Was it breached in any way? What legal options are available to us?
You think this is far fetched? Let’s review some live examples then. Sometime ago a visitor to a Volkswagen factory in Nigeria got electrocuted by a live wire carelessly left by a workman on the site, the court held the facility manager liable for failing to notify visitors of the danger. In Glasgow, a child was killed by eating poisonous berries he picked from a shrub in a public garden under the control of the Glasgow corporation. The court held the corporation liable because they failed to put up a notice warning of the berries or employ any other precautionary measures for that matter.
There have also been numerous cases involving persons who have suffered dog attacks claiming damages against occupiers of the premises where the attacks took place.
Who is an occupier?
An occupier is a person who has control over any building, land or structure, this also includes a vehicle, vessel or aircraft. An Occupier has an obligation to ensure the safety of visitors, be they invitees or even trespassers. Where a visitor suffers any form of injury on such premises, especially in cases where the injury is as a result of the negligence of the occupier, then the occupier is liable in law.
A consideration of the rule reveals that we owe our visitors a legal duty to ensure their safety while in our premises, and we breach this duty if they suffer any injury like in the scenarios paints above. We need to take extra care to make sure premises we control are safe, especially our business environment. What precautions could we take to insulate ourselves from liability.
- Notice is key, inform your visitors of potential danger areas in your premises, if possible label those areas with large signs. “DANGER KEEP OFF”, “OUT OF BOUNDS” better still “BEWARE, UNEVEN STAIRS” are useful suggestions. Nothing is over the top or in exaggeration, you are only protecting yourself from avoidable liability.
- Prepare in advance for visitors. Keep dogs chained at all times, except when they are cute and cuddly and are not prone to attack or defecating on your guests. If you have a negligent gateman or employee fire him.
Note, that where your visitor has been notified of all the risks but still decides to try his luck e.g feeding a vicious dog in its cage, you bear no liability for a severed finger or any related damage that may occur.