Over the last couple of years we have heard from experts that there has been a significant reduction in the wasp and bee population. Many people will disagree with this conclusion as the hot weather across the UK has brought out wasps, bees as well as other insects. The warm weather has also brought out dog walkers with more people looking to enjoy the countryside. Therefore, we thought this might be an opportune moment to review personal injury compensation for insect and animal injuries. So, who is liable and how might you be able to claim compensation?
Duty Of Care
Whether an employer or a local council all bodies and individuals have a duty of care to their employees, customers and those visiting and using their premises. This duty of care covers everything from unsafe machinery to a cluttered workplace, the working environment to protection from insect and animal attacks. Many people will think the idea that you can be seriously injured by an insect is bizarre but hold that thought and read on.
Insect Free Offices
It may sound farfetched but an employer does have a legal obligation to keep their offices clean. There have been numerous cases over the years of employees receiving insect bites some of which have turned septic and caused serious medical conditions. One example was the tax credit advisor and the HMRC office in Washington, Tyne & Wear.
This claim revolved around an employee who was bitten by an unidentified insect which caused a reaction so severe that she was barely able to walk as her leg swelled. The victim was forced to take sick leave as eventually she was unable to sit down or touch her leg. The problem seemed to revolve around the location of the offices, near wetlands. It was alleged that the insect had flown in through the office window, which was open on a relatively hot day, and bitten the victim. HMRC admitted liability for the bite and an out-of-court settlement of £4000 was agreed.
This is a very difficult scenario because at some point the liability of the employer must surely be overtaken by natural causes and the local environment. This then brings into question the:-
- Location of the office
- Cleanliness of the office
- Action taken to protect employees
- Advice offered to employees
- Alternative to opening windows in hot weather
- First-aid treatment
It may surprise many to see such a number of questions and potential liabilities arising from what could be seen as an innocent bite from an insect. However, this perfectly reflects the growing legal framework surrounding employee protection and personal injury claims.
We all know that bedbugs are commonplace and can be difficult to control even in the most hygienic of environments. Over the years we have seen a number of personal injury claims taken to court as a consequence of injuries/infections caused by bedbugs.
A bedbug is a nocturnal creature which feeds on human blood and very much welcomes a warm enclosed environment. Even the cleanest of environments will still attract bedbugs although there is no doubt less hygienic environments will attract more. One of the stronger arguments in favour of compensation relates to occasions where a hotel/accommodation company have been made aware of bedbug issues. It may surprise many, but we have seen instances where companies have continued to offer accommodation in rooms which have received complaints.
Some of the more common symptoms of a bedbug bite include:-
- Feeling of being generally unwell
- Infected bites
- Uncontrollable itching
- Exacerbating an existing medical condition
If you are a victim of bedbug bites the chances are you will have numerous bites all over your body which if left untreated can become infected. Individually, it may be easy to mistake bedbug bites for something else but the cumulative impact of two or more symptoms can help to clarify the situation. So, how do you claim compensation for bedbug bites?
The vast majority of bedbug bite claims occur as a consequence of hotel stays whether for business or holiday purposes. While the ultimate responsibility will lay with the hotel/accommodation company, under the “Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tour Regulations 1992” it is the travel company which is initially liable. In reality, any compensation paid out by a travel company as a consequence of bedbug bites at one of their approved destinations will likely be reclaimed from the hotel/accommodation company in question.
Cow Attacks Can Be Ddeadly
An article which appeared in the Independent back in 2015 cast a very interesting light on the most “deadly large animals in Britain”. The lovable, innocent looking cow!
In the 15 year period prior to the article, official statistics show that 74 people have been killed by cows – compared to just 17 by dogs in the previous 8 years. The breakdown of cow attacks was as follows:-
- 18 were members of the public using public footpaths, common rights-of-way
- 17 of the 18 victims were accompanied by a dog
- 10 involved cows with calves
- one involved a bull
- 56 of the fatalities involved those working on farms
- 11 of the 56 involved newly calved cows
- 23 of the 56 were attacked by bulls
Those who have not experienced a stand-off with a cow with calves will have no idea of just what they can do. We have seen incidents where victims have been charged and trampled, unable to escape the charging beasts. It is worth noting that the majority of fatalities involved cows becoming extremely protective of their calves. This is a central plank to many compensation claims.
Numerous farmers have been found negligent after placing cows and calves in fields which were accessible to the public. It is fairly common knowledge that while the vast majority of cows are relatively unassuming they can take on a whole different character when protecting their calves. So, if a member of the public is attacked on a public pathway by a cow which is protecting a calf, there is an argument that the animal and the calf should have been placed elsewhere. We have also seen instances where members of the public have been off official pathways and still been able to claim compensation for cow attack injuries.
Wasps And Bees
Wasps and bees are still fairly prevalent across the UK even if their numbers have reduced in recent times. While the location of wasps and bees is to a certain extent at the beck and call of nature, it is more the action or non-action taken by parties who are made aware of particular issues that encourages compensation claims. For example, let us assume there is a wasp/bee nest next to an employer’s factory which they were made aware of by various employees. If the employer took no action and an employee, client or visitor was attacked then there is potential room for compensation. The employer was made aware of the problem, ignored the potential consequences and they failed to act. To many this looks like a straightforward case of negligence and liability.
Up and down the UK we are also starting to see an extension of the weeks between council funded refuse collections. In the warm summer months bin bags can overflow and black bags can lay by the side of bins and attract wasps in particular. Is there an argument to suggest that the extended period between refuse collections is encouraging wasps – which could potentially endanger those in their locality? Is this why local authority advice is to take any refuse overflow to your local refuse collection facility?
As local council budgets continue to be stretched it is likely that the time between refuse collections could be extended yet further in years to come. It would be interesting to see official feedback on wasp infestations as a consequence of excess rubbish. Is this an issue which local councils have considered?
Spiders And Fruit!
In years gone by it was seen by many as an old wives tale, tarantulas, scorpions and other potentially dangerous creatures being transported thousands of miles with bunches of bananas and other fruit. The reality is real. We have seen many people incur potentially serious, and sometimes life-threatening, injuries as a consequence of bites. Aside from reputational damage, many of the supermarkets have also found themselves on the end of significant personal injury claims which they often have difficulty defending. Is this an issue which they should have under control?
Many people believe that the use of natural growth processes, as opposed to the use of pesticides, is and will continue to lead to more of these incidents. Research shows that pesticides, although sometimes having an unhelpful impact on fruit, tend to keep spiders and similar creatures away from the goods. So, as more and more people look for naturally grown produce there is every chance we can expect to see more unwelcome visitors with our bananas, apples and oranges!
Who would have thought that the cow is the UK’s most dangerous large animal? Did you know you may have the right to claim compensation as a consequence of bedbug bites? An employer’s obligations extend to the environment in which you work which includes the threat from insects and other creatures. If we take a step back and look at the situation from a distance, these comments may surprise some people but it is still just a case of good old-fashioned common sense.
If an employer, or party responsible for buildings and facilities, is made aware of particular issues such as a local wasps nest, they do have an obligation to take action. Should they fail to do so, they may well find themselves on the end of multiple personal injury compensation claims. The knock-on effect could be additional sick days and increased staffing costs.
Good old-fashioned common sense still prevails sometimes, as does the threat of legal action for those who ignore it.