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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Theft victim patient is blaming the practice

Advice on another practice problem from barristers Michael Salter and Chris Bryden

Advice on another practice problem from barristers Michael Salter and Chris Bryden

THE SITUATION

A patient parked her car in the road near our surgery. While she was at her appointment her car was broken into and various items were taken, including an expensive present she had bought for her partner.

She is trying to blame the practice for not warning her that thieves might operate in the area. Where do we stand? Would it have made any difference if she had parked in our small practice car park?

THE ADVICE

In order for the patient to be able to bring a claim against the Practice for the losses suffered from the break in to her car, she will have to demonstrate that a "duty of care" is owed to her by the Practice.

A duty of care can arise in many circumstances.

Obvious examples include a duty owed to road users and pedestrians when driving, duties owed to patients when in the surgery to keep them reasonably safe from harm, or duties owed when giving professional advice (be it legal, medical, financial or otherwise) to a lay person.

There are numerous other situations in which a duty can arise.

However there must be some form of obligation on the part of the one party for the benefit of another, to take reasonable care in all the circumstances. This is a question of law based on given facts.

Where a person parks a car on the public highway, even if the said highway is close to a doctor's surgery, it is difficult to see that, without more, there could be said to be any duty on the Practice in respect of the safety of the car.

To try to bring a claim based merely on proximity to a given service is almost certain to fail. However there could be circumstances where such a claim could succeed.

Such circumstances would arise, for example, in the situation where the Practice actively told patients that they should park on a given stretch of road (for example down a side alley) and represented that there was no chance of any break-in or damage to the car.

If a patient then relied upon this advice and suffered a break-in, there is a chance that such a claim might succeed. The clear lesson, then, is that no statement that any public space is entirely safe from crime should ever be given.

The situation is slightly different if a patient parks in a designated parking space.

If damage to her car occurs which parked there, it is possible that she might be able to bring a claim against the Practice, particularly if representations have been made to the effect that it is safer to park there than on the street.

To minimise the risks from any possible claim it would be wise for the Practice to erect a sign to the effect that no liability is accepted for any damage or loss to cars parked on the surgery car park.

It should be noted that if the surgery does provide a car park, there will be a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that patients parking there do not suffer personal injury.

This will include keeping the area safe (filling in potholes, for example) and sweeping up leaves or snow or other things that could be construed as a hazard.

Michael Salter and Chris Bryden are barristers at 2 Gray's Inn Square Chambers: www.2gis.co.uk Michael Salter is also able to accept instructions directly from readrs of Pulse. Please visit www.michaelsalter.net for guidance on how to instruct him. Legal points are provided for discussion only and are given without obligation. For specific legal advice consult your solicitor or contact Michael Salter via his website

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