According to the tabloids, or the man down your local, we now live in a “Compensation Culture” where you are in danger of being sued for millions of pounds for the smallest thing. We hear all the time of summer fetes, carnivals and other community events being cancelled because the organisers can’t take the risk of someone being injured and running off to a hot shot lawyer to make a claim against them. But the reality is usually very different from what is reported and the fear of litigation is often misplaced.
Despite rumours to the contrary our legal system is pretty much grounded in common sense. Courts will rarely let a spurious claim succeed and are always reluctant to allow a claim that might “open the floodgates”. More than this though is the fact that a personal injury claimant will only ever win if the defendant has been negligent, careless in other words, and will always fail if the defendant had done all that was reasonable to avoid the accident in the first place.
It is the use of the judge’s favourite word “reasonable” that is so important. It means that the organiser of a village fete doesn’t have to supply all visitors with safety goggles to play hoop-la or cover the tom bola with cotton wool in case someone gets a splinter: because that wouldn’t be “reasonable” in terms of time or expense.
Lawyers also talk of an injury being “reasonably foreseeable”. This means that you can only be held responsible for an accident if there was an obvious risk of it occurring. You don’t have to worry about the unknowable or the unforeseen. So, an organiser of a flower show for instance doesn’t have to warn people about the dangers of exploding petunias. What it does mean is that if the organisers take a few sensible precautions they should have nothing to fear. For instance the organiser of an a fete could do a walk of the show area before and during the event to identify any likely problems, and by then making sure they are dealt with in a “reasonable” way and in a “reasonable” time they can relax and enjoy the day just as much as those paying at the door.