Forensics

Public Liability

Forensic Services Newsletter

A lampshade, poorly positioned, combined with the heat from a light bulb, resulting in a dangerous situation that could give rise to a claim by a member of the public.

This month we were asked by Crawford International Adjusters to participate in public liability seminars organized by them in Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Preparation for the seminar reinforced to us the differing attitudes that exist in various countries to claiming compensation after an accident. While most Asian insurers might presently take comfort in the relative reluctance of the public to seek damages, this may well change with a convergence in attitudes and awareness accompanying globalisation.

In this newsletter we highlight slipping and contamination, the two areas where in our experience lawyers are most likely to use forensic assistance. More correctly, this should read our forensic assistance, as a third area is vibration damage to surrounding homes during construction, which is not within our expertise.

Slipping

The shiny floors of supermarkets, shopping centers and hotels are often the scene of slipping accidents that result in public liability claims.

People slip, trip and fall because the surfaces they walk on are too smooth, uneven, devoid of handrails, poorly lit or festooned with holes. They also have accidents because they go where they shouldn't, run when they should walk, or are preoccupied by conversation with a friend, perhaps on a mobile. There is a third category where certain individuals exaggerate injury, or even take advantage of unsafe conditions to manufacture an accident.

Clearly there are many skills that can be of use in sorting out such claims, with adjusters, lawyers and private investigators all playing their part. Forensic science can also contribute, with emphasis on determining the facts. How slippery or rough was the surface? How do the physical conditions compare to the relevant standards? The skills that technical investigators learn in the accumulation of evidence and the presentation of that evidence in report form and possibly in court, are applicable to public liability claims.

Contamination

Smoke issuing from a charcoal factory on right, passing over a farm on the left. The farmers were awarded compensation by the court.

We all pollute, but some industries have the capacity to cause significant damage to their surroundings. This can be continual, or as a result of an accidental event. Our technical expertise is used to determine if the alleged contaminant has originated from the suspected factory, and if the alleged damage is consistent with what is expected of that contaminant. Some examples are as follows.

  1. Workers' cars did come into contact with fertilizer, but an increase in corrosion of those cars was not to be expected.
  2. A salt factory did release salt, but this was not significant by comparison with the closeness to the sea.
  3. A charcoal factory continually released chemicals that would be expected to have adverse effects on rubber trees, livestock and people nearby. This went to court and two farming families were awarded US$90,000 compensation by the court.