You have a legal responsibility for the safety of visitors to your static caravan – whether or not they are paying guests, friends or relations. Those obligations may be a matter of English common law or prescribed in a host of laws and regulations imposed by the UK’s Health and Safety Executive. As the owner of the caravan, you may face stiff penalties for any breach.
There is a well-established principle or doctrine in English common law known as a duty of care. If you breach that duty, you may be considered negligent and liable to pay damages to the injured person or persons.
The doctrine is rooted in an especially famous judgement arising from the case of Blyth v Birmingham Waterworks, 1856, when Judge Baron Alderson summarised the concept of negligence in a ruling that is known by heart by practically every student of English law:
- “Negligence is the omission to do something which a reasonable man guided upon those considerations which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs would do, or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man would not do” (http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/manuals/chmanual/ch81140.htm).
In its statement of an essentially common sense interpretation of how people ought to relate to one another, it might be considered to be typically English. But what does it mean in practice? Typically, there is a four stage determination:
- is a duty of care owed? – if you are the owner of the caravan and have invited someone else to share that accommodation, the assumption is likely to be that you do indeed owe your guest a duty of care;
- is the duty of care breached? – this is typically one of the more difficult questions in such cases and a question that frequently returns to the judgement of Baron Alderson. Quite simply, was it reasonable to do or not to do something that may have averted the harm incurred;
- was any injury caused? – this is probably more straight forward. Did someone suffer an injury as a result of the failure of your duty of care; and finally
- was the person’s injury a result of your negligence? – this simply links the effect of the person’s injury to the cause of your failing to exercise a due duty of care.
What much of this is likely to boil down to, therefore, is whether the injury or loss was reasonably foreseeable – was a reasonable person going to foresee the loss or damage suffered?
Protecting yourself against such risks may be an especially complicated business and you may therefore want to consult specialists in the provision of caravan insurance third party liability such as Cover4Caravans.
You might also want to take into account the fact that, given the somewhat slippery definition of “reasonableness” in English common law, specific legislation has been put into place with respect to particular aspects of the relationship between a landlord and any tenant – including tenants of caravans.
In addition to common law, there are a number of particular legal requirements stemming principally from Health and Safety legislation, relating specifically to the safety of utilities such as gas and electricity. In this respect, there is little difference between letting your caravan or letting a home of conventional bricks and mortar construction.
A faulty or poorly maintained gas appliance may lead to life-threatening poisonous leaks or the risk of fire.
For that reason, anyone letting their home – including a static caravan – is required by law to conduct an annual inspection of the gas installation. Indeed, that annual gas inspection may be a condition for the continuing validity of your caravan insurance.
The safety inspection may vary from one qualified agency or engineer to another but is typically going to include:
- a test of the gas appliances and any related safety apparatus;
- flue checks and smoke spillage tests;
- checks for the adequacy of ventilation; and
- an examination of the condition of gas pipework, and any evidence of leaks.
Clearly, it is important that any annual inspection is conducted by an appropriately qualified engineer and you might want to confirm that this is the case through the official Gas Safety Register website.
Rather similar regulations apply to the electrical supply and safety of appliances in your static caravan – they are obligatory only if you are letting the caravan to others.
If that is the case, you are obliged to conduct regular inspections, conducted by suitably qualified electricians. Your responsibility for the safety of any guests extends to ensuring that each and every electrical installation (light fittings and power sockets, for example) and appliance (kettles, cookers or anything you plug in) has been checked and certified safe.
As the landlord, you also have a responsibility for ensuring that it is easy to make an exit from the caravan in the event of a fire; that the furniture and furnishings in your caravan are fire safe; and, depending on the size of your caravan, for supplying fire alarms and extinguishers
In terms of your duty of care according to the common law and your responsibilities under Health and Safety legislation, there are a number of standards that apply to the safety of any guests in your static caravan (somewhat different rules apply to touring caravans).
You may agree, however, that the onus of responsibility is not unreasonable, since the safety of your guests is also your paramount concern.
Nevertheless, for all your compliance with the fire, gas and electricity safety laws, accidents may happen and you may find yourself held liable for some breach of a duty of care. Depending on loss or damage to property, or any injuries sustained by your guest or guests, your liability may be considerable.
For that reason, adequate public liability insurance is likely to be important since it typically covers the cost of any damages awarded to your guest (as the claimant), your legal costs in defending the claim that has been made, and, if you are found to be liable, the claimant’s legal costs, too.
Because of the scale of potential damages and costs for which you may be held liable, basic public liability cover typically protects claims of up to £2 million.