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Public liability is a term a lot of people have heard of, but not many people fully understand. And that makes sense as public liability covers such a wide variety of situations, events and circumstances it can be very difficult to define.

Unlike workers’ compensation or road and vehicle accidents, which both (as their names suggest) cover reasonably specific areas of injury or illness, it’s difficult to sum up public liability from just its name.

Perhaps the easiest way of defining what public liability is, in a legal sense, is to define it as the area of compensation law that covers any claims that falls outside of workers’ compensation, medical negligence and road and vehicle accidents.

In other words, if you’ve been physically or psychologically injured, and you can’t claim compensation through the motor accident or work cover commission or insurer in your state, you may be able to seek compensation by making a public liability claim.

Why is it called public liability?

The name can be slightly confusing. You don’t have to be injured in a public place to be eligible to make a public liability compensation claim.

Public liability certainly covers incidents in public places, likes slips on a badly paved walking path in a park, however it also covers many incidents that don’t necessarily occur in a public place, such as: dog attacks, injuries inside aeroplanes, trains and private businesses, to name just a few.

Public liability can even cover an accident that occurs inside someone’s home, which is also something to consider if you’re taking out home and contents insurance – but that’s a topic for another post.

National Practice Group Leader Barrie Woollacott explains what is, and isn't defined as a public liability claim.

When can I consider making a claim?

We get this question a lot. In fact, a lot of people never even consider claiming public liability compensation because they:

  • Don’t know such compensation exists in the first place
  • May have heard of public liability, but don’t understand how it applies to them and their rights
  • Know they have some rights, but believe the accident was partly their fault and assume they don’t have a case.

Although public liability isn’t associated with well-known state authority like WorkCover or the TAC (in Victoria), the MAIC (in Queensland) and SIRA (in New South Wales), it does have strict laws surrounding it. It is important that you know that you have rights and entitlements if you’re injured and have suffered because of someone else’s negligence.

Even if you don’t feel you’ve been badly hurt, you shouldn’t brush off an accident as insignificant or “just me being clumsy”, when you know the fault didn’t lie entirely with you.

Can’t I just deal with it myself?

If you feel that your injury or claim is not significant, it can be tempting to try and manage a compensation claim yourself.

For example, people often treat a slip or a bump as they would a minor complaint at, say, a supermarket: “No big deal. I’ll just go and speak with the manager.”

This approach would be fine if everyone was willing to act in good faith. While some people and insurance companies will do the right thing, others may want to shut your complaint down in the minimum amount of time and offer you the minimum amount of compensation.

As we mentioned earlier, there are strict laws governing public liability and avenues to compensation, and a legal professional can give you advice on precisely what you’re entitled to, letting you know whether a compensation offer is fair or whether further negotiations are your best option.

And remember, Slater and Gordon offer a no win, no fee* arrangement. which means you can come to us for advice and legal assistance at any stage of the process, and if your compensation claim isn’t successful – or you don’t end up pursuing compensation – you may not need to pay any legal fees.

Will I need to go to court?

In the case of most public liability claims, going to court is actually quite rare.

Most public liability claims are negotiated informally through discussion or mediation. In these cases, the claims process can typically take between 12 and 18 months.

In the unlikely event that your claim does end up in court, the process can take longer than that.

We’re here to help. If you or somebody you love is considering a public liability claim and wants some advice, simply get in touch online or call us on 1800 555 777.

*No Win No Fee Conditions. Please visit:

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